Sustained Outrage

W.Va. doesn’t prohibit pickup truck passengers

The news out of Clay County, W.Va., this morning is terrible:

A teenage girl was killed and 10 other people were injured after a pickup truck wrecked in Clay County overnight.

State Police spokesman Sgt. Michael Baylous said Kara Conley, 17, of Bomont, was killed in the wreck, which happened on W.Va. 36 near Wallback around 4 a.m.

The others were taken to area hospitals. Paige Johnson, spokeswoman for Saint Francis and Thomas Memorial hospitals, said Saint Francis received three patients from the wreck, and all had been treated and released by 9:45 a.m.

Isaac Murphy, 18, of Clay, was driving the truck, Baylous said.

Speed was a factor in the wreck, Baylous said, and marijuana was found at the crash scene. He said police would await toxicology reports on Murphy before proceeding with any charges against him.

But the incident also serves to highlight the fact that West Virginia is among the states that still doesn’t have a law prohibiting passengers in the cargo areas of pickup trucks. This fact was pointed out just last year in a report from AAA and also in a recent analysis by the National Conference of State Legislatures and a review by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety.

The dangers of riding in the back of pickup trucks are well known, having been examined closely three decades ago in a report by the National Transportation Safety Board. Recounting the study’s findings in a more recent paper, the NTSB explained in 2010:

The study focused on an accident involving a compact pickup truck carrying 11 passengers—3 riding in the cab and 8 riding in the open cargo area of the truck. The driver failed to negotiate a curve, and the truck ran off the road and overturned. Seven people in the cargo area were killed. The study also examined 1975–1979 data from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration’s Fatality Analysis Reporting System involving accidents with occupants riding in the cargo areas of pickups.

As a result of the study, the Board made a recommendation to the states to review existing laws and revise as necessary to prohibit passengers from riding in the open cargo area of a vehicle, except during work-related activities.  As of February 2010, 30 states and the District of Columbia have enacted laws that restrict riding in the cargo areas of pickup trucks.

Experts consider riding in pickup truck beds especially risky for children and young people, as explained in a 2011 paper published in the the official journal of the American Academy of Pediatrics:

Of particular concern regarding the safety of pickup trucks for children is the use of the cargo area of pickup trucks for the transport of children and youth. Because the cargo area is not intended for passenger use, it is neither required nor designed to meet occupant safety standards applicable to passenger locations. The fatality risk to children in the cargo area of pickup trucks has been well described.

The most significant hazard of travel in the cargo area of a pickup truck is ejection of a passenger in a crash or noncrash event (eg, sudden stop, turn, swerve, or loss of balance, as well as intentional or unintentional jumps and falls). It is fortunate that the number of children and adolescents younger than 18 years killed as passengers in the cargo area of pickup trucks has declined by more than 50% over the past decade, from more than 40 per year to less than 20 per year more recently.

The most effective prevention strategies for reducing the number of deaths and injuries to children in pickup trucks are the prohibition of travel in the cargo area and age-appropriate restraint use in an appropriate rear-seat location in the cab.