Death renews talk of total ban
By Diana Leone
Advertiser staff writer
Over the past 14 years in Hawai'i, 34 people have been killed while riding in the beds of pickup trucks.
Most of the deaths were on O'ahu, and the victims ranged in age from 12 to 61 years old, according to Dan Galanis, an epidemiologist with the state Health Department's Injury Prevention Program.
One 12-year-old died before the Jan. 1, 1998, passage of a Hawai'i law that prohibits children 12 or younger from riding in a truck bed.
The death Wednesday of 13-year-old Kaaikalau Kamakea-Naluai of Waimanalo, who was thrown from the bed of a pickup truck in Kailua, has some state lawmakers talking again about outlawing passengers in pickup beds.
Sen. Will Espero, D-20th ('Ewa Beach, Waipahu), sent an e-mail to fellow lawmakers yesterday with a link to the news of the latest tragedy and a message: "Colleagues — It's time to pass a bill banning ALL from riding in the back of a truck. O'ahu or neighbor island, it impacts us all."
Espero has sent a similar message during each legislative session every time there's been an accident in which someone riding in the back of a pickup truck was killed.
"What's the difference between the skull of an 11 year old and a 15 year old and an adult?" Espero asked. "When they hit the asphalt the result is the same."
With deadlines for new legislation passed, it's unlikely such a measure would be heard this year, but Espero said he will introduce a bill again in 2011.
Another lawmaker who has tried to pass bills banning pickup truck passengers almost every session is Rep. Barbara Marumoto,
R-19th (Kaimuki, Wai'alae, Kahala).
"This is really tragic and totally preventable," Marumoto said. "That's what's really sad."
Sen. Calvin Hee, D-23d (Kane'ohe, Kahuku), doesn't want to ban all pickup bed passengers.
"I wouldn't support a ban of people riding in the back of pickup trucks, simply because for many communities that's the only means of transportation," Hee said.
Rural O'ahu and Neighbor Island residents would object, he added.
Sen. Josh Green, D-3rd (Kohala, Kona, Ka'u), thinks young people should be protected by the law.
"I believe, as an emergency room physician and as a senator, that no young people should ever ride in the back of pickups and I will always support laws that achieve this," Green said. "Adults can make up their own minds but they risk making their kids orphans."
In 2005, Green and former Rep. Dennis Arakaki tried to raise the age for people who can legally ride in pickups beds to 17. Their bill failed to get a hearing.
Asked about possible objections from Neighbor Island residents, Espero said one tactic he's considered is a law that would only apply to O'ahu.
Galanis' statistics show that 25 of the 34 deaths between 1996 and 2009 were on O'ahu. Four were in Maui County; three on the Big Island; and two on Kaua'i.
Police reports also show that about 90 major traffic crashes each year involve truck bed passengers, with half involving nonfatal injuries, Galanis said.
State court records between 2000 and 2007 show an average of 45 citations issued each year for violation of the law (HRS 291-14) that prohibits children 12 or under from riding in a truck bed.
Nationally, 30 states have some kind of a law restricting passengers in truck beds, according to the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety.
But there are a wide variety of exceptions for circumstances such as hayrides, parades at speeds of less than 8 mph and farmers moving workers from field to field.
Marumoto said she considers Hawai'i's law protecting children 12 and under a partial victory.
"Police don't always ticket people, but at least it educated a lot of people that this is not the right thing to do for your kids," she said.
But Kaaikalau's death, she added, "kind of points out the need no matter the age."