Children who ride in the back seats of pickup trucks run a risk of injury five times greater than children who ride in the back seat of other types of vehicles. Children's Hospital of Philadelphia (CHOP) researchers put it simply--if you own a pickup truck, you should strongly consider having an alternative for transporting children. If your child must ride in a pickup truck, following certain laws and recommendations can enhance your child's safety.
The majority of pickup trucks simply do not properly accommodate children who need to ride in car seats. As Joe Wiesenfelder of Cars.com explains, the safest place for a child is in the middle of the back seat. Most pickup trucks, however, either do not have a back seat or have one that is too small to fit a car seat or faces sideways. According to Dennis Durbin, M.D., who co-authored a landmark research study on child passenger safety in pickups for Children's Hospital of Philadelphia, most injuries to children riding in extended cab pickups occur due to impact with the vehicle's interior. For example, the passenger compartments in pickup trucks tend to be smaller and have less interior padding than cars and SUVs.
Individuals riding in the cargo area of a pickup truck are three times more likely to die in a crash than cab occupants. As an American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) study points out, under no circumstances should you transport kids in the cargo area of a pickup truck. The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) reports that 30 states, including Texas, have laws banning minors from riding in cargo beds, as of June 2010. Violation of the Texas law carries a fine of between $25 and $200.
While the cargo area is a definite no-go, the extended cab of a pickup truck, as noted, also poses significant child passenger safety problems. Car seats, including booster seats, are designed for full-size vehicle seats. AAP warns that there may not be enough room in front of your child if his body or seat moves forward in a crash while seated in a rear- or forward-facing position in a pickup cab.
You may choose to transport your child in the front seat of your pickup truck if no back seat exists or if you deem it unsafe. While some states allow children to ride in the front seat, AAP urges caution when transporting infants in rear-facing car seats. Never place a rear-facing infant seat or a front-facing child seat in front of an active passenger air bag. Full-size back seats are safest for all children, but if they must ride in the front seat of a pickup truck, switch the passenger air bag to the "off" position before driving .
The bottom line, according to the AAP, is that pickup trucks are not the ideal mode of transportation when it comes to child passenger safety. If you are buying a pickup truck that young children will ride in, find one with full-size rear seats. Also ensure that the back seat is equipped with a top tether and a shoulder/lap belt. The top tether, or strap, is used along with a seat belt to properly secure infant and child car seats to the vehicle. Booster seats, typically used by 4- to 8-year-old children, are designed to operate with a shoulder/lap belt only. Check for child passenger safety compatibility issues before purchasing a new pickup truck.