OCEAN CITY – The Town of Ocean City is considering outlawing passengers from riding in the back of pickup trucks.
According to Ocean City Police Lt. Scott Harner, on Oct. 1 the state enacted several laws to increase seatbelt usage by expanding the requirements under the law, and Harner proposed an ordinance to enact in Ocean City where passengers would be prohibited to ride in the unenclosed portion of a vehicle, such as the bed of a pickup truck.
“In my tenure here, I have witnessed an increase of people in unenclosed areas of vehicles. I have a great concern for people in the unenclosed portions of vehicles as they travel down Coastal Hwy,” Harner said. “I have seen people standing up in unenclosed portions of vehicles, people sitting on the side rails of vehicles, people sitting in lawn chairs in unenclosed portions of vehicles. I don’t think it takes a collision reconstructionist to imagine the likelihood of not only what would happen to them in a crash but at 40 miles per hour if that vehicle comes to a sudden stop, certainly everything in that vehicle is going to continue forward at 40 mph … the likelihood for injury is assured.”
Ocean City Police Captain Kevin Kirstein added it is not only about those who are ejected from a vehicle’s unenclosed area at the time of a collision but also the safety of those who become the crash zone of the passengers ejected.
The seat belt law for Maryland states, “Seat belts required for driver and all passengers age 16 and older. Violation of the seat belt law in the backseat is a secondary offense. Other violations of the seat belt law are standard offenses. Riding in the cargo area of a pickup truck is not permitted for persons under age 16 if the vehicle is traveling more than 25 mph; proper child restraints are still required; some other exceptions apply.”
According to the State Highway Administration (SHA), some jurisdictions, such as Anne Arundel County, have local ordinances that prohibit anyone from riding in the bed of an unenclosed pickup truck. Anne Arundel County’s law came into effect following an accident in 1979 when 10 teens riding in the back of a pickup truck were killed in Gambrills.
Under Section 90 of Anne Arundel County Code titled, Passengers in unenclosed areas of motor vehicles, states, “It shall be unlawful for a person to ride in or allow another person to ride in an unenclosed area of a motor vehicle except in a seat with a seat belt in use. The penalty upon violation is punishable by a fine of $50.
“It is straight forward and simple,” Harner said.
According to Ocean City Police Captain Michael Colbert, the state has not outlawed passengers from riding in unenclosed portions of vehicles due to the agricultural aspect.
“They wouldn’t be able to have workers in the back of a pickup truck to ride down a country road to the next farm area,” he said.
Harner reminded the commission the next step would have the proposed ordinance reviewed by City Solicitor Guy Ayres, who could insert the appropriate language, such as excluding town approved special events, such as holiday parades.
“I think it is a great idea,” OCPD Chief Ross Buzzuro said. “I think it would help us out tremendously.”
Mayor Rick Meehan added, “I would rather be proactive rather than be reactionary if something did happen.”
The Police Commission was in consensus to have Ayres review the proposed ordinance to have a final draft return to the commission before moving the action item forward to the full Mayor and City Council for a final decision.