Local law enforcement say they see fewer and fewer kids riding in the back of pickup trucks, in part because of seatbelt laws and because of growing awareness of the danger.
Wednesday a 14-year-old Texico girl fell to her death from a moving pickup truck when the wind caught a mattress she was holding as her mother drove along State Road 523 just east of Clovis.
Casandra Garza was pronounced dead at the scene.
Under state law, it is illegal for anyone to ride unrestrained by seatbelt in a vehicle.
Roosevelt County Deputy Malin Parker said times have changed and it’s more and more rare for officers to encounter children riding in the back of pickup trucks.
“It’s not anything like it was when I was younger for sure,” he said. “Most people know now that it is a ticketable offense so they don’t do that.”
Parker said he believes seatbelt laws, coupled with growing awareness of how dangerous it can be to ride in the bed of a pickup truck have both contributed to a reduction.
Since citations for riding in the back of a pickup truck would be classified as seatbelt violations, it is difficult to track the number of incidents. But Clovis Police Chief Steve Sanders agreed that it is not common.
“It’s very dangerous. You’re not restrained in the vehicle and (if there’s a crash) you’re catapulted out,” he said.
“We want people inside the cars because the car absorbs the energy of the crash. When you’re out there on your own, you’ve got to dissipate all that energy… our bodies aren’t made to take that kind of force.”
Sanders said he was a police officer in Colorado in the 1990s when seatbelt laws took effect and he remembers noting a decrease in the number of people riding in the back of pickup trucks.
State Police Capt. Jimmy Glascock said officers tend to see higher instances of passengers riding in truck beds in rural communities where trucks are more common.
But he said, “Considering the number of pickups that we have and it being a rural community, I don’t think it’s that common but we do see it on occasion.”
And, “If you’re in the back and you’re not restrained and there is an accident you are heavily exposed.”
State statistics for last year show in fatalities, 60 percent of people who died were not properly restrained in the vehicle, he said.
The risk is just as high in cases where a truck has a camper-top covering the bed, he said, because camper-tops, secured to the truck with a few bolts, often break free in a crash.
In 2004, A Clovis and Tucumcari teen were killed when they were thrown from a pickup truck in Roosevelt County.
The boys and three other teens were riding through an open field in the dark and struck an embankment.