SOUTHEASTERN, N.C.—It’s a rural, agricultural tradition: if you’ve got a pickup truck, chances are, you’ve let someone ride in the truck bed.
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Although North Carolina has grown from its agricultural roots, some traditions have remained. It’s legal to transport individuals – both animal and human – in the bed of a truck. The only state law that restricts the tradition is General Statute §20-135.2B, which prohibits children under the age of 16 from riding in a truck bed unless accompanied by an adult.
According to the New Hanover County Sheriff’s Office, while law enforcemnt still see people riding in the bed of trucks, it is not as common as it once was.
“Back in the day — the 70s and 80s — that was more common to have kids and dogs riding in the back of trucks,” Spokesman Lieutenant Jerry Brewer said. “A lot of things have changed. It’s just really not as common as it used to be.”
Though state law requires the use of seat belts, most truck beds do not have equipment installed to properly restrain riders. According to Mark Ezzell, director of the Governor’s Highway Safety Program, this creates a legal gray area.
“Seat belt use is required as well, so not wearing a seat belt is technically against the law,” Mark Ezzell said.
Last month, Ezzell’s program live streamed a crash demonstration with multiple dummies sitting in the bed of a truck. The truck was rear-ended by a vehicle traveling at a low speed and dummies, weighted to simulate children, flew 30 feet or more into the air.
Video: The effect of even a relatively low-speed rear-end collision on those riding in the back of a pickup truck can be catastrophic. (Courtesy North Carolina Governor’s Highway Safety Program)
“To see something like that happen and to see how the dummy flew out of the bed of the pickup truck it really makes you think twice,” Ezzell said. “We try to come up with a lot of creative ways to try to get that message across.”
Though the Governor’s Highway Safety Program does not collect crash data specific to pickup truck-related collisions, Ezzell said damage to both humans and animals can be significant.
“Obviously at the Governor’s Highway Safety Program we concentrate on human issues around crashes, but I think it is fair to say that there would be extensive injuries to a pet when you have crashes like that happening,” he said.
For deputies in New Hanover County, Brewer said truck bed-related citations are situational.
“It’s a judgment call,” Brewer said. “You just have to address it as the law sits.”
Without laws that outline a maximum number of passengers allowed in the bed of a truck or whether animals should be restrained, deputies base their decisions on whether or not there’s an obvious danger present.
“[Deputies] have to assess the situation; you have to go with the totality of the situation,” Brewer said.
Though the Sheriff’s Office typically does not directly respond to collisions, Brewer said the most common instance where truck bed-riding is a safety concern pertains to dogs.
“The most time we get a dog jumping out of a car is when there’s been a wreck,” Brewer said.
Despite the safety risks of riding in the back of a truck, area accidents that relate to riding in the bed of a truck are uncommon, according to North Carolina Highway Patrol
“In the foreseeable past, here in New Hanover and Brunswick County we really haven’t any serious injuries or deaths related to that,” First Sgt. M.W. King said.
Still, King recalls Newton’s first law of motion. “If there is a collision and they’re not restrained, then they’re going to move.”
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