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Important tips for Hawaii high school graduation month: don’t ride in the back of a puck-up truck!

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We have to wear seatbelts and we can't drive and use a handheld cell phone. I'll buy that. Those are good rules. Where did they come from? A combination of common sense and our elected officials: its the law!

So why do we let people ride in the back of a pick-up? A lot of people are seriously injured or killed in Hawaii each year because they were in the bed of a pick-up truck that crashed. It is crazy bad judgment to climb into that truck bed.

Two years ago a news story by Diana Leone, an Advertiser Staff writer reported on renewed momentum for the legislature to pass a ban on truck bed rider, Death renews talk of total ban:

Over the past 14 years in Hawai'i, 34 people have been killed while riding in the beds of pickup trucks.

Most of the deaths were on O'ahu, and the victims ranged in age from 12 to 61 years old, according to Dan Galanis, an epidemiologist with the state Health Department's Injury Prevention Program.

One 12-year-old died before the Jan. 1, 1998, passage of a Hawai'i law that prohibits children 12 or younger from riding in a truck bed.

The death Wednesday of 13-year-old Kaaikalau Kamakea-Naluai of Waimanalo, who was thrown from the bed of a pickup truck in Kailua, has some state lawmakers talking again about outlawing passengers in pickup beds.

Sen. Will Espero, D-20th ('Ewa Beach, Waipahu), sent an e-mail to fellow lawmakers yesterday with a link to the news of the latest tragedy and a message:?"Colleagues — It's time to pass a bill banning ALL from riding in the back of a truck. O'ahu or neighbor island, it impacts us all."

Espero has sent a similar message during each legislative session every time there's been an accident in which someone riding in the back of a pickup truck was killed.

"What's the difference between the skull of an 11 year old and a 15 year old and an adult?" Espero asked. "When they hit the asphalt the result is the same."

With deadlines for new legislation passed, it's unlikely such a measure would be heard this year, but Espero said he will introduce a bill again in 2011.

How could anyone in their right mind oppose this ban? Well Senator Hee D-23d (Kane'ohe, Kahuku), is worried about "rural" folks complaining. Really? I will bet that any poll of all of the "rural" folks would support the ban. But this is politics and politics is about friends and the few. Politics is about who makes the most noise. Why didn't he educate his constituency about the fact that even the death of one high school kid is enough to overcome any "inconvenience". Is he telling us that he sat around with the "rural" folks that he refers to and they decided, after a careful consideration of the inevitable deaths of Hawaii kids and the destroyed families that live, that they would accept the deaths because they didn't want to be inconvenienced?

I would like Senator Hee to visit a family who lost a child, thrown from the back of a truck and killed or paralyzed. He could explain this ridiculous reasoning. Tell that to a mother and a father of a dead child.

"I wouldn't support a ban of people riding in the back of pickup trucks, simply because for many communities that's the only means of transportation," Hee said.

Rural O'ahu and Neighbor Island residents would object, he added.

And you know, many people complain about the laws. That is why we have laws. Laws get people to do things that they wouldn't normally do. Taxes for instance.

Now, about pick-up trucks. They are more prevalent in rural areas. And deaths from pick-up trucks, which generally result in more serious injuries and deaths, are higher in rural areas.

This year the legislature is considering Senate Bill 59, a law to prohibit the particularly vulnerable kids who are 12 years or under and would require seat belts for all others in the truck bed:

SECTION 1. Hawaii law prohibits the operation of a pickup truck with any passenger twelve years of age or under in the bed or load-carrying area of the truck. However, the legislature finds that recent accidents resulting in the death of or injury to persons riding in pickup truck beds underlines the need to strengthen Hawaii law.

The purpose of this Act is to additionally require that no pickup truck may be operated unless all passengers seated in the bed or load-carrying area of the truck are restrained by a seat belt assembly and seated in a secured mounted seat that is in full compliance with state and federal safety laws, rules, regulations, and guidelines. This Act does not affect the exception currently provided under section 291-14(b), Hawaii Revised Statutes, that is applicable to persons or corporations operating a business or businesses that serve the public.

There is good support for this law from Traffic Safety and Public Health: State Legislative Action, 2009
By Melissa A. Savage, Anne Teigen and Nicholas Farber for the National Conference of State Legislatures:

Pickup Trucks:

As the use of pickup trucks continues to rise, so does passenger use of cargo areas. Studies
have shown that passengers seated in the back of pickup trucks are at an increased risk to
be thrown from the vehicle in the event of a crash, even at low speeds. According to a 2007
article in the Journal of Neurosurgery: Pediatrics, researchers identified 73 pediatric patients
with injuries related to riding in the cargo areas of trucks; 53 of these were children (73
percent) who had sustained neurological injuries, including isolated head injuries, spinal
injuries and peripheral nerve damage.

Some state occupant protection laws exempt pickup trucks, so it is not against the law for
passengers to ride in the back of these vehicles. Most state child passenger protection laws
prevent young children from riding unrestrained and, therefore, would make it illegal for
children to ride in the back of pickup trucks. During the 2009 state legislative sessions,
Arizona, Florida, Georgia, Hawaii, Maryland and Wisconsin considered legislation to
regulate passenger use of pickup truck cargo areas. Florida passed a law requiring all
pickup truck passengers to use a seat belt. (See Appendix E for laws relating to cargo areas
in pickup truck laws.)

The Hawaii Legislature fearing complaints from rural voters that they preferred a few deaths of children over any inconvenience, put Senate Bill 59 over until next year. Perhaps they should appropraite some money for flowers at funerals. Maybe it will pass next year, but don't hold your breath!

But we don't need laws to do the right thing. We can educate ourselves and teach our families and friends to be safe. So if you are asked to get into the bed of a pick-up truck, don't do it. You see it doesn't matter if the driver is a good driver or the truck is large and new. When a drunk driver or speeded crashes into your truck, you will go flying and there is almost no way you will walk away. I have handled many of these cases for bereaved families over the years. The cases make me sick and I vow to do everything I can to prevent such senseless deaths.