Thu, April 02

Lawmakers again take on issue of kids in the back of pickup trucks

PHOENIX -- The sight of youngsters bouncing around in -- and sometimes out of -- the back of pickup trucks may not be around for long.

That is, unless they're wearing helmets.

On a voice vote Wednesday, the Senate gave preliminary approval to legislation that would make it illegal for motorists to have anyone younger than 18 in the open bed of a pickup truck unless they are somehow belted in.

The future of the HB 2089, however remains in doubt. Similar legislation has been proposed and defeated numerous times in the past.

But this version, crafted by Rep. Matt Heinz, D-Tucson, may have a better chance than its predecessors. That's because it includes provisions designed to placate foes.

This is the third vehicle safety measure that has advanced in the Legislature this week. Others acted on Tuesday deal with booster seats for children and a bank on driving while texting.

The pickup legislation is designed to plug what some contend is a loophole in state law.

It is illegal to have an "unsecured load' in the back of a truck. The premise is that if a refrigerator, a deer carcass or a box of marbles falls onto the road it creates a hazard for other motorists.

That law, however, does not apply to humans.

Prior efforts have faltered amid complaints that parents and adults are in a far better position to judge the safety of their passengers. But Rep. Doris Goodale, R-Kingman, said it's more than individual rights are involved.

She said in the last decade three constituents in the Kingman area alone district died in these kinds of mishaps. In one case, the teen was in the intensive-care unit of a hospital for more than a year, amassing bills of close to $2 million which were picked up by the state.

To just get the bill to the House floor, Heinz had to agree to an exception to allow unrestrained children in open pickup trucks if they are wearing approved motorcycle-style helmets. And the legislation also says a police officer cannot stop a motorists solely because there are kids in the truck unless they observe some other violation.

The booster seat measure approved by the House Tuesday deals with kids inside of vehicles.

Children younger than four have to be in specially designed car seats.

Existing statutes also require all front-seat occupants of vehicles to use installed seat belts when the vehicle is moving.

seats. And the law says those younger than 16 must be belted, no matter where they are sitting.

The problem, according to proponents, is that seat belts were not designed for smaller people. So when there is a crash, a child can actually slide underneath the seat belt.

And in some situations, a child could actually be in a position where the spine snaps, causing permanent paralysis.

The booster seat is designed to raise the child a few inches so the belt sits in the proper position.

Tuesday's vote on HB 2452 could be the best chance ever to get such a measure enacted.

The Senate approved similar measures in each of the last two years, only to have the proposals die in the House.

Rep. Nancy McLain, R-Bullhead City, said she had been among those who had opposed the idea in the past. All that changed, she said, after speaking to a pediatric physician who reminded her that children already have to be belted in.

"But without the booster seats, we're telling them to restrain their child in a very unsafe manner,' McLain said.

Stuart Goodman, who lobbies for AAA Arizona, said the seats can be purchased for as little as $10. And he said there are programs which provide free seats to those in need.

Tuesday's Senate vote on SB 1538 to ban texting while driving cane over the objections of Senate President Russell Pearce, R-Mesa. He said there already are "plenty of laws' on the books to deal with distracted driving, "whether it's putting on make-up, whether it's tending to your kids in the back seat because you have to turn around and do some corrective action.'

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