State senators on Wednesday agreed to give children in pickup trucks the same status as refrigerators: They can't be back there if there's a chance they can be bounced out.
Without dissent, members of the Senate Committee on Public Safety and Human Services approved a measure to make it illegal for anyone younger than 17 to ride in the open bed of a pickup truck. Motorists could be given traffic tickets and have to pay the fines decided by justices of the peace or city magistrates.
The measure is based on statistics from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration which concluded that about 200 people who ride in the back of pickup trucks die every year. The leading cause of death, according to the agency, is brain injury when a passenger is ejected.
State law already requires that any cargo in the back of a pickup truck be "securely fastened" to ensure that it doesn't bounce out, mainly to prevent the items from becoming a hazard to other motorists. But that law does not apply to humans.
The concept is not new. Arizona lawmakers have considered similar measures in the past.
In fact, in 1988 one version of the plan actually was approved by the Legislature.
But that bill limited enforcement to only Pima and Maricopa counties, a maneuver designed to get the votes of rural lawmakers who insisted that riding in the back of pickup trucks was a way of life in their communities. And that was unacceptable to Jane Hull, the governor at the time, who vetoed it.
SB1439, this year's version, would apply statewide. It does, however, include some exemptions.
For example, there would be no violation if the pickup truck were outfitted with a camper shell that prevented someone from being ejected. Teens also could be in the bed if they are being transported in an emergency or if they are in an organized parade.
Anything on private property also would remain legal.
And it also permits teenagers in the open beds if the vehicle is on a road where the posted speed limit is no more than 35 miles per hour and the truck is traveling no faster.
Legislative analysts say 38 other states and the District of Columbia already have similar restrictions. The bill now goes to the full Senate.