Lawmakers debate kids in pickup beds

A bill that would raise the minimum age to ride in the open bed of a pickup truck in North Carolina got sidetracked this week in the state House after some rural lawmakers argued the restrictions were too burdensome for families.

The measure would prohibit children under 16 from riding in the bed. Current law allows children 12 and older to ride in the back – and even younger children are allowed if an adult is present and they live in one of 32 rural counties. The bill would eliminate those exemptions.

After the House approved an amendment that would lessen penalties for motorists who violate the law, Rep. Ronnie Sutton complained that many rural families in his district still need to use a pickup truck to ferry their kids.

“When you get a family of about seven or eight and they want to go to church on Sunday morning, how's the father going to get them there?” said Sutton, D-Robeson. “Is he going to make two trips? How's the family going to get to Wal-Mart?”

A majority of the House agreed with Sutton's request to move the bill to a House judiciary committee to review it again in light of his concerns.

Rep. Jennifer Weiss, D-Wake, a primary sponsor of the bill, said later Thursday the issue of penalties weren't her main concern.

Too many children are still being injured or dying under the current law, according to supporters. Eight children died and 127 children under age 16 were injured while in the back of a pickup truck between 2002 and 2006, according to the N.C. Child Safety Task Force, a panel that recommends laws to the General Assembly.

“The major thing is that it becomes a law that says it's not safe for people to be in the back of a pickup,” Weiss said. “It's about education and prevention.”

The bill would fine drivers $25 and assess two driver's license points.