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Road Injury Prevention & Litigation Journal
Copyright © 1997 by TranSafety, Inc.
April 1, 1997
TranSafety, Inc.
(360) 683-6276
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State Liable Where Expert Witnesses Show Curb Was a Hazardous Condition
Characteristics of Drivers Who Carry Passengers in the Back of Pickups
Jury Will Decide If County Roadway Construction and Design Created a "Dangerous Condition"
When Driver Failed to Yield, Downed Stop Sign Not Proximate Cause of Injuries
















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Characteristics of Drivers Who Carry Passengers in the Back of Pickups

Which drivers of pickup trucks are likely to carry passengers in the back?

The study described below discovered that relatively high percentages of the drivers who carried passengers in the back of pickups were Hispanic and students, and they lived in a household that had a teenage member. Compared with drivers who did not carry passengers in the back of the truck, these drivers came from larger households, more often did not own the pickup, and were less often the principal wage earner of the family. They also reported using the pickup for a variety of reasons and engaging in some high-risk driving behaviors. In addition, drivers who had carried passengers in the back of a pickup were not likely to support restrictions against carrying people there.

This description of drivers who transported passengers in the back of pickups came from an article entitled "Who Carries Passengers in the Back of Pickup Trucks?" by Phyllis F. Agran, Diane G. Winn, and Craig L. Anderson--all from the University of California, Irvine. The article was a revision of material presented in October 1992 at the Conference of the Association for Automotive Medicine in Portland, Oregon. The revised article appeared in the February 1995 (Volume 27, Number 1) edition of Accident Analysis & Prevention, the official journal of the Association for the Advancement of Automotive Medicine, edited by Frank A. Haight.

Framing the Problem

Pickup sales increased from 1.5 million in 1981 to 2 million in 1991, and 56 million pickups were on the road in 1990 compared with 35 million in 1980. As the number of pickups on the road increases, pickups continue to be statistically overrepresented in fatal accidents. The Fatal Accident Reporting System showed 5,097 pickup-occupant fatalities in 1981 and 5,671 in 1991. Passengers in the back of pickups do not have the option of wearing seatbelts, yet they have a higher risk of ejection from the vehicle in an accident and are more likely to suffer severe injuries or fatality than those riding in the cab.

Moreover, those riding in the back of the truck are more likely to suffer injury even when the truck is not involved in an accident, and they face the added danger of carbon monoxide poisoning. Finally, of the 238 pickup-back passengers who died in accidents in 1991, over half were less than 21 years of age.

Given these statistics, the authors pointed out a need for research to identify the characteristics of drivers who had carried passengers in the back of pickups. Using the results of the research, highway safety personnel can better develop and distribute information designed to eliminate the transporting of passengers in the back of pickup trucks.

This study compared "those pickup truck drivers who carried passengers in the back with those who did not, with respect to socioeconomic characteristics, driving behaviors, conditions of use of the pickup truck, and attitudes regarding restrictions on passenger transport in the back."

Research Method

To conduct the study, staff from the Center for Survey Research at the University of California, Irvine developed a survey instrument that combined original questions on carrying passengers in the back of pickups with modified questions from Californians' Views on Driving. Random telephone interviews of a sample population from Riverside County, California took place between October 12, 1991 and November 8, 1991. Interviewers received training, and a supervisor was present at all telephoning sessions. Researchers called evenings from Monday through Friday, during the day Saturday, and from 3:00 p.m. to 8:00 p.m. Sunday. If no one answered at these times, callers attempted daytime, weekday contacts.

When interviewees indicated the household had a pickup, the licensed driver who most frequently drove the pickup became the respondent. If they had no pickup, any licensed driver in the household could respond. If the household had no licensed driver or no adult who spoke enough English to respond to the interview, the callers eliminated that household.

Researchers used the SPSS software from SPSS Inc. of Chicago, Illinois to analyze data.

Survey Results

From the 3,250 telephone numbers dialed, callers compiled 1,010 completed interviews. Report results reflected responses from 364 pickup drivers of whom 119 (33 percent) said they had carried passengers in the back of a truck. The report identified those who had carried passengers in the back of pickups by their response to the question: "What is the largest number of people you have transported in the back of your pickup truck?"

Survey respondents reported carrying passengers of all ages in the back of pickups. Data showed that "8% carried children aged under 4 years, 49% carried children aged 4-12 years, 64% carried adolescents, and 59% carried adults."

Table 1 shows the results of comparisons between drivers who said they had carried passengers in the back of a pickup and those who had not.

Click here for for Table 1.

As Table 1 indicates, a greater proportion of drivers 16 to 24 years old and 35 to 44 years old carried passengers in the back of pickups. Those carrying passengers in the back were more likely to be Hispanic and students and less likely to own the truck or be the principal wage earner of the household. Those who carried passengers in the back came from larger households with a higher frequency of teenage members. Most had a vehicle available for transportation other than the pickup.

When responding to questions on driving behaviors, 77 percent of drivers who did not carry passengers in the back of pickups said they always wore a seatbelt compared with 71 percent of those who carried passengers in the back. Significant differences in high-risk behavior showed up in four categories: "driving with 'perhaps too much to drink' in the past month (12% [for those who carried passengers in the back] v. 4% [for those who did not]); receiving one or more tickets in the past three years (45% v. 29%); speeding up at an intersection on a yellow light (19% v. 8%); and changing lanes frequently (17% v. 5%)."

Questions related to the purpose of trips using the pickup revealed that those who carried passengers in the back drove the truck for several different purposes. More of those who carried passengers in the back than those who did not used the truck for each of four activities: work (86 percent versus 75 percent), school (36 percent versus 14 percent), recreation (71 percent versus 43 percent), and chores (82 percent versus 72 percent). Those who transported passengers in the back of the truck were more likely to have a shell (38 percent) than those who did not (26 percent).

Researchers determined that three driving behavior variables were independently related to carrying passengers in the back of a pickup: driving with "perhaps too much to drink" in the past month, receiving a traffic citation in the last three years, and changing lanes often. The three use variables independently related to transporting people in the back of a truck were: traveling to and from school in the pickup, driving the pickup for recreational reasons, and having a shell on the back of the truck.

Approximately two-thirds of the pickup drivers interviewed knew California had a law regarding passengers in the back, and researchers found no significant difference between the two groups in their knowledge that the law existed. None of the interviewed pickup drivers could explain the law. When questioned about provisions of the law, significantly more of those who carried passengers in the back than those who did not thought that the practice was acceptable (1) if the truck had a shell, (2) if the back were uncovered and the trip for work reasons, or (3) if the driver carried adults only. Sixty-six percent of those who did not carry passengers in the back felt that it should not be allowed; twenty-eight percent of those who carried passengers in the back felt it should not be allowed.

Conclusions

As more pickup trucks travel U.S. highways and more highway crashes involve pickups, the practice of carrying passengers in the back of pickups will result in more injuries and fatalities. Many pickup-back passengers are children; however, California law provides that children under 12 cannot ride in the back of a pickup unless accompanied by an adult. California law also requires that children under four be restrained, and children are not restrained in the back of a pickup.

The authors suggested motorists were driving with a false sense of security if they felt that by carrying only adults in the back of the pickup and by having a shell, they would make their passengers safe. Research has shown that shells do not prevent passengers from being thrown out of the back of a truck. Moreover, the shell can come free of the truck and cause injury by hitting the passengers. These dangers are equally great for adults as for children.

Lawmakers hesitate to pass laws prohibiting passengers from traveling in the back of pickups because they fear such laws may discriminate against low- income households where the only transportation is the truck. The writers acknowledged that this study excluded drivers without telephones, non-English- speaking households, unlicensed drivers, younger adolescents, and occasional pickup drivers. The study also included only one California county. However, study results strongly indicated that most households (91 percent of this study group) have a vehicle available other than the pickup.

Even given a lack legal restrictions on carrying passengers in the back of a pickup, the authors suggested information from this study could help focus interventions to discourage this dangerous practice. They recommended preventive measures might target driving classes for teenagers and other student drivers as well as retraining programs for those who have violated traffic laws.

Copyright © 1997 by TranSafety, Inc.


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