By Leslie Reed
LINCOLN, Neb. Starting this summer, pickup drivers
will risk a $25 ticket if they let youngsters ride in the
back of the truck.
Gov. Mike Johanns this week signed into law a requirement
that all passengers younger than 18 wear seat belts while
riding in a motor vehicle. Although motorists usually can't
be stopped for seat belt violations alone, the new law will
allow police to stop a pickup truck because they see children
riding in the back.
The new law will take effect July 16, assuming the Legislature
adjourns as scheduled in April.
The measure, Legislative Bill 227, barely squeaked past the
Legislature in a 25-18 vote last week. Johanns said he signed
it to protect children.
"All of us have seen a pickup full of kids and recognized
how dangerous it is," he said. "There is no margin
of error if you're in the back of a pickup truck."
State Sen. Ray Aguilar of Grand Island sponsored the legislation
at the request of Tri-Cities SAFEKIDS, a safety organization
in his district.
He said the proposal struck home for him.
His son's best friend in high school was killed when he fell
out of the back of a pickup truck in downtown Grand Island.
His other son's best friend was hurt in a similar accident.
"I can really understand this," Aguilar said. "I
know it happens in real life."
According to the Nebraska Office of Highway Safety, six people
were killed after falling from the back of pickups in the
past decade. Two of those people were younger than 18.
There were 227 people injured, 111 of them younger than 18.
The measure, however, met opposition from some rural lawmakers
who said farmers needed an exception so they could haul youthful
workers out to the fields to de-tassel or put up hay. Others
spoke nostalgically about youthful pickup rides.
State Sen. Ernie Chambers of Omaha, however, questioned why
farm children weren't entitled to the same safety precautions
as city children.
The bill was passed without a farm exception. Parades and
exhibitions will be the only exception to the pickup law.
Johanns said he would have preferred an agriculture exception,
but he decided to sign the bill anyway.
"It just fits with so many things we've talked about
relative to protecting children," he said.