Pickup truck law is good, but ...

Wednesday, March 3, 2004

Another of the vestiges of summer, rural life, is history. We're talking about riding in the back of a pickup truck, wind in our hair, feeling the force of the air on our hand, outstretched over the side of the box.

On Tuesday, Gov. Mike Johanns signed LB227, which will require all those younger than 18 to wear seat belts.

Police usually won't be able to stop vehicles for seat belt violations alone, but the new law will allow police to stop a pickup truck because they see children riding in the back.

That's right; no more piling into the bed of the old Ford for a trip to the swimmin' hole. No more hopping over the sides and jostling for a comfortable seat on the way to detassling corn.

As a practical matter, we doubt the new law will make much difference out on the farm. Law enforcement officers are few and far between on the back roads of Cherry County. Even the most responsible farm dad is likely to look the other way when it's time to drive the crew from one end of the fenceline to the other.

But the new law makes sense when it comes to the majority of Nebraska youngsters who, let's face it, live in the cities, where concrete is much more common than mud.

No one would argue that the back of a pickup truck is a safe place to be in Omaha rush hour traffic or while traveling down I-80 at 75 mph.

Make that B Street or J Street, while we're at it. Southwest Nebraska has not been immune to tragedy related to riding, unsecured, in the back of a truck.

State Sen. Ray Aguilar of Grand Island sponsored the legislation, saying he had personal reasons. His son's best friend in high school was killed when he fell out of the back of a pickup truck in downtown Grand Island. Another friend was hurt in a similar accident.

Still, the measure barely slipped by, in a 25-18 vote last week.

"All of us have seen a pickup full of kids and recognized how dangerous it is," Johanns said as he signed it. "There is no margin of error if you're in the back of a pickup truck."

The numbers to back up the new law are mixed. According to the Nebraska Office of Highway Safety, six people were killed after falling from the back of pickups in the past decade. Only two of them were younger than 18. There were, however, 227 people injured, 111 of them younger than 18.

Farmers won't be excepted from the new law, because, as Sen. Ernie Chambers of Omaha asked, why aren't farm children entitled to the same safety precautions as city kids?

Heritage Days organizers needn't worry, however; there is an exception for parades.

Yes, children will be safer if they aren't allowed to ride in the bed of pickup trucks. It's just that we'll miss those summertime rides with the wind in our hair.

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