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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Monday, March 22, 2010

For every passenger, a seat belt

The death of a 13-year-old boy last week served to remind us just how sadly illogical our automotive safety laws are.

The Waimānalo boy, who was riding in the back of a pickup truck cargo bed, was killed when the truck and a car collided and he was thrown onto Kalaniana'ole Highway.

State law only bars children under 12 from riding in the bed of a truck. In the wake of this tragedy, that age boundary seems arbitrary and senseless. Cargo beds are called that because they're meant to carry cargo, not people of any age.

In what's become a melancholy drill each time such a fatality has occurred in recent years, state Sen. Will Espero sent an alert to his colleagues, again urging them to support a bill banning all people from riding in the back of a truck.

And they should. Hawai'i's cavalier attitude about riding in pickups is rooted in 1950s nostalgia, not 21st-century reality. State law requires passengers in the truck cab to be belted, so why would we allow someone to sit unrestrained in the truck bed?

The deadline for new legislation has passed for this session, but that gives Espero and others time to study what's been done elsewhere.

A common complaint: The ban would punish households that need a pickup for work and can afford no second passenger vehicle. Other states have dealt with this by allowing truck-back riders if they're in federally approved safety seats, equipped with seat belts.

Such options have softened outright bans in other states, and the seats can be installed in Hawai'i trucks just as easily.

In the past 14 years, 34 people have been killed in Hawai'i while riding in pickup truck beds. They've ranged in age from 12 to 61.

And, lest everyone forget amid this discussion of nameless statutes and statistics, the victim in last week's crash did have a name: Kaaikalau Kamakea-Naluai. Lawmakers should keep his memory in mind when they do the right thing and close this gap in state safety laws.