Saturday night January 23, 2021, around 11:00 pm, a 21-year-old man lies dead on the lanes of the Gulf Freeway near Beltway 8 in Houston, Texas. Witnesses say the driver of the white unidentified pickup truck may have swerved and that’s when the passenger riding in the bed of the pickup truck fell out. Other reports suggest the man may have been bouncing in the bed of the truck before it happened. Police are not yet sure if alcohol played a role in this unfortunate accident. Medical examiners say the fall is what killed the man and no other drivers had struck him. Unfortunately, the driver of the white pickup truck fled the scene and has not yet been found.
Texas Laws Regulation Riding in the Bed of a Pickup Truck
According to Texas Transportation Code § 545.414 riding in the bed of a pickup truck is legal for adults. The Texas law only regulates minors. Minors are not permitted to ride in the bed of a truck except in limited circumstances such as operating or towing a vehicle in a parade, emergency, driving along the beach, transporting workers from one field to the next on farm-to-market roads, or when it is the only vehicle owned or operated by members of the minor’s same household. The latter exception seems ridiculous. We obviously recognize that allowing minors to ride in the back of your truck is extremely dangerous but if the minor is your kid and you decided not to buy another vehicle that would have been safer, you can put their life at risk.
Prior Law in Texas
Sadly, we cannot even blame the above law on antiquated views of safety from an era where vehicles did not yet travel at high speeds like they do today. The current Texas law regulating riding in the bed of a pickup truck was passed in September of 2001. Prior to that time, children under the age of 12 were prohibited from riding in pickup truck beds only if the vehicle was traveling over 35 mph. So apparently, in 2001 state legislators recognized that serious injury could occur at speeds under 35 mph and recognized that minors ages 12-18 needed protection too, however, they created exceptions for important things such as hayrides and parades and use on bumpy farm-to-market roads and beaches.
Lack of Federal Regulation
The Federal Government leaves regulation of riding in pickup beds up to individual states. Currently, most states have laws regulating who and when someone may ride in the back of a pickup truck. However, these laws vary from state-to-state and leave unsafe exceptions like the Texas statute referenced above. Nineteen states have no state laws on the books at all regulating anyone from riding in the bed of a pickup.
Serious Risk of Injury Even at Slow Speeds
The most common injuries noted after falls from pickup trucks are head trauma and broken bones. Plus, if you are operating on a roadway there is the added risk that the falling passenger gets hit by another vehicle. Even at slow speeds severe traumatic brain injury resulting in death has been reported. It appears from the evidence in the present case that TBI was the likely cause of death.
The Search Continues
If you have any information about the identity of the driver of the white pickup truck, please call 911 to report it. Failing to stop and render aid is a crime in Texas. More importantly, friends and family deserve some answers.