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Is It Legal to Ride in the Back of a Pickup Anymore?

Is it legal to ride in the back of a pickup truck? To those who grew up outside the nation's cities and suburbs, bouncing along in the back of a pickup is as much a staple of summer as going to the beach or getting a suntan. But is it legal?

Laws Vary By State

It depends on where you are and what you are doing, according to the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety. Depending on what state you are in, the answer can range from "Sure, why not?" to "Never!" The problem is that the back of a pickup is designed for carrying cargo, not passengers. Even moderate vehicle movements can cause ejection of passengers from the back. Yet, in some situations, there is no alternative to carrying passengers other than walking.

Legal in 20 States

Twenty states have no laws prohibiting riders in the back of pickup trucks. Not surprisingly, most of these states contain substantial rural areas where pickup trucks are needed for work uses. The states are Alabama, Alaska, Arizona, Delaware, Idaho, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Kentucky, Minnesota, Mississippi, Montana, New Hampshire, North Dakota, Oklahoma, South Dakota, Vermont, Washington, West Virginia, and Wyoming.

States with Restrictions

The remaining 30 states have laws primarily designed for the protection of children. Some of them extend to ages as old as 19, while a few prohibit any riding in the back. Probably the most lenient is Colorado's law, which allows back riding as long as the riders are seated and the area is enclosed on all four sides: sorry, but no hanging your feet off the tailgate. Most states restrict this based on age. The following states allow back riders older than age 18; Florida, Georgia, Maine (older than age 19), Michigan, Missouri, Nebraska, Nevada, New Mexico, Oregon, Pennsylvania, and Texas. Some states set age 16 as the cutoff point: Connecticut, Maryland, North Carolina, Ohio, Rhode Island, and Virginia. Other states have lower age limits: Kansas (14), Louisiana (12), Massachusetts (12), South Carolina (15), and Tennessee (12). These states prohibit back riding unless specific conditions are present: Arkansas, District of Columbia, New Jersey, Utah, and Wisconsin (work-related); Hawaii (no room in the passenger compartment); and New York (limited by length of trip and age of passengers.)