Riding in a truck bed is just fun. The fresh air, the speed, the scenery. What’s not to love?
For many people in the U.S., especially in rural areas, riding in the back of a pickup truck is a rite of passage and an enjoyable method of travel.
However, this mode of transportation can be incredibly dangerous. And despite its status as a quintessential American experience, it’s actually illegal to ride in truck beds in many states.
We dug in to uncover if and where you can ride in a truck bed.
Let’s take a look!
Where Can You Legally Ride in the Back of a Pickup Truck?
Riding in the back of a pickup truck isn’t legal everywhere in the U.S. Even in many states where it’s legal, there are rules and regulations on who can ride in a truck bed. Some laws also dictate that riding in a truck bed is permitted only under specific circumstances.
Out of our 50 states, 21 don’t have laws forbidding passengers from riding in the backs of pickup trucks. These are typically rural areas or have a lower overall population than states that do regulate this kind of travel. For instance, Wyoming, Alaska, and Vermont have zero laws prohibiting truck bed travel.
Twenty-nine states, as well as the District of Columbia, do have restrictions on truck bed riders. Many of the laws pertain to age. For example, none of those states allow anyone under age 12 to ride in a truck bed for any reason.
According to Vehicle Freak, some states have safety regulations that allow passengers in truck beds if a fully enclosed cargo area protects them. And some states only allow people to ride in truck beds if their travel is related to their employment.
No two states have the exact same law on this issue. If you want to ride in the back of a pickup, check that state’s laws first.
Even If It’s Legal, Should You Ride in a Truck Bed?
However fun it may be to catch the breeze in the back of a pickup truck, there are some significant risks to consider. One is clear: most truck beds don’t have seat belts or safety features. In a crash, a passenger could be thrown from the bed and seriously injured or even killed. According to HeintzLaw.com, about 50 people aged 20 and younger die while riding in truck beds each year.
Some of the risks are less obvious. Riding in the back of a truck with a sealed enclosure can increase a passenger’s risk of exposure to deadly carbon monoxide fumes. And in case of an accident, a driver may be liable for their truck bed passenger’s injury or death, even if the accident wasn’t the driver’s fault.
Of course, there are situations where it’s perfectly safe to ride in the back of a pickup truck. Events like parades and hayrides are generally safe because of low traffic speeds and minimal crash risk. Controlled environments drastically reduce the risk of injury when traveling in truck beds.
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Can You Add Seats To a Truck Bed to Make It Legal to Ride?
With so many states giving the green light to truck bed passengers, why is there no accommodation or add-on to make this kind of travel safer? As it turns out, one company set out to make pickup truck beds a safe option for riders.
BedRyder created a removable seating system to fit most pickup truck beds. This system featured two bucket seats mounted on adjustable rails designed to lock into place on almost any model.
The seats featured adjustable safety restraints and, according to BedRyder’s website, met all Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standards. BedRyder’s proprietary technology was initially featured on a 2015 episode of Shark Tank and became popular after this TV appearance.
Unfortunately, BedRyder is no longer in business. Despite creating a groundbreaking option for truck bed passengers, the company also faced a few instances of negative press. According to an article on PowerNationTV.com, a video widely circulated on Twitter showed two young children strapped into a BedRyder system on a highway near Wichita, Kansas.
The video generated a lot of negative feedback and raised an important question: even if it’s legal, is the BedRyder system truly safe?
Is It Safe For Dogs to Ride in a Truck Bed?
Most states have laws prohibiting children under 12 from riding in truck beds. You may wonder, “Do any such laws exist to protect dogs?”
According to Puppy Leaks, California and Massachusetts are the only two states in the U.S. that forbid dogs from riding in pickup beds. Some states, such as Washington, consider it animal endangerment, and police will respond if you report it.
And although dogs in truck beds are a common sight across the country, there are many reasons to keep your fluffy friend inside the cab of your vehicle.
American Humane estimates that nearly 100,000 U.S. dogs die annually in truck bed-related accidents. While these deaths are usually due to a lack of safety restraints and animals jumping from open beds, there are other risks. Rocks, highway debris, severe weather, and other environmental factors can take their toll on your pet.
Even small dogs can exert dozens of pounds of force when involved in a crash. Put bluntly, there’s no truly safe way for a dog to ride in a truck bed.
Can Passengers Legally Ride in a Truck Camper?
Truck campers may have a slight advantage over truck beds where ease of travel is concerned. While 29 states have laws restricting truck bed passengers, only five states outright forbid passengers who ride in truck campers.
That’s not to say that riding in a truck camper is necessarily safe. These handy add-ons share many of the same risks as plain old truck beds: no seat belts and danger of ejection or injury in a crash.
Truck Camper Adventure points out another problem: “The prime advantage motorhomes have over truck campers is that you can watch and communicate directly with family and friends riding in the back. You can’t really do that effectively in a truck camper.” A person riding in a truck camper may see an accident brewing and be powerless to notify the passengers.
Pro Tip: No license? No problem! Find out Where You Can Drive Without a License in the USA.
Is There a Book About People Riding in Truck Beds?
Photographer Alejandro Cartagena began riding in truck beds with his grandfather, a Mexican construction worker, at a young age. In 2011, he was inspired to create a book depicting the lives of everyday people who rely on pickup trucks to get to and from work.
Cartagena’s self-published book, Carpoolers, collects hundreds of photographs of day laborers riding to truck beds. The photos are a serene and insightful glimpse into the realities faced by blue-collar workers who may not have access to personal transportation.
According to Printed Matter, the book explores the divide between the working class and the suburban sprawl that demands their labor.
Cartagena’s book also features news clippings. Sadly, most of these clippings report accidents that injured or killed these truck bed passengers. In an interview with NPR, Cartagena describes this mode of travel as “completely dangerous.”
To Ride or Not to Ride?
It’s legal in many states to ride in the bed of a truck. And it can be fun, too! Many Americans have fond memories of bouncing down a dirt road in the back of a family truck or enjoying an open-air ride around the town square during a parade.
Using your best judgment is the key to riding in the back of a pickup truck. If a situation feels unsafe, there’s a good chance it is. As fun as this widely-shared experience can be, it comes with many risks.
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