June 3, 2009 — St. Croix Senator Wayne James asked Gov. John deJongh Jr. to veto his own bill banning passengers in pickup beds because he feels amendments have watered it down too much.
James opened Wednesday's hearing of the Committee on Education, Youth and Culture, which he chairs, recounting how the day after the watered-down bill was passed, a young boy was killed Saturday on St. Thomas when he fell out of a moving pickup bed. (See "Boy Killed in Fall from Truck Bed.")
"The bill proposed by me prohibited people, not just children, but people in general from traveling in the beds of pickup trucks," James said. "It was amended so children under 16 can ride if accompanied by an adult. In this case, the young gentleman, Rasean Sanderson was traveling in the cargo section accompanied by a 42-year-old adult in a truck driven by his grandfather."
Under his bill, Sanderson would not have been allowed to ride in the pickup bed, while under the amended version it would be legal for him to ride there, James said, urging the governor to veto the bill and his colleagues to send up a stronger bill.
Sen. Terrence "Positive" Nelson disagreed.
"It is not fair to represent this tragic accident as though it was regular sitting in the back of a truck," Nelson said. "They were sitting on top of a tool box. No law will make people responsible."
James' office issued a statement elaborating on his position.
"This senseless loss of life is precisely what my original bill intended to prevent," James said of Sanderson's accident. "People are not cargo; we have not been regarded as such since the infamous Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade and slavery came to an end in 1888. And no civilized society should allow its citizens to risk life and limb when riding in the cargo section of pickup trucks in the name of so-called 'culture,' 'custom' or 'financial hardship.'"
Laws on passengers in pickup cargo beds vary widely from state to state. According to data from the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, 20 states have no restrictions whatsoever on passengers riding in pickup beds. (See the institute's website.)
The other 30 states have laws restricting children as passengers in the cargo bed, but most states with any restrictions at all still allow passengers over 18 and in many cases younger, according to the institute.
Some southern states in particular are hostile to rules on pickup truck passengers, regarding them as an intrusion on custom and tradition. Georgia, for instance, turns away $20 million a year in highway funding rather than require passengers inside the cab wear seatbelts.
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