"I let the kids ride in the back of my pickup."
It was a scorching Oklahoma day in 1998, and 6-year-old Kamden Clonts and his 5-year-old cousin, Joshua, wanted to go swimming. So when Kamden's mom, Stephanie, agreed to the plan, the three headed out in their pickup, with the boys riding in the cargo area. They never made it to the pool.
While crossing at an intersection two blocks away, the Clontses' pickup was hit hard by a larger truck that was racing through the intersection at twice the speed limit. "The boys were thrown right out of the back," Clonts says. The force of the crash sent her truck sailing into a nearby yard.
"When I climbed out, Kamden and Josh were on the ground screaming and terribly scraped up," she recalls. Both boys were rushed to the E.R. Dozens of pebbles had to be extracted from Kamden's scalp. Josh suffered a broken leg, a concussion, and spinal damage.
"You should never think that this won't happen to you," warns Clonts, who says that riding in the back of a truck is still commonplace in her community.
With more than 36 million pickups on the road today, this problem is as prevalent as ever, says Holly DeBlois, a rural youth-safety specialist at the National Children's Center for Rural and Agricultural Health and Safety, in Marshfield, Wisconsin. "Most people don't understand how easily a passenger riding in the back can be injured or killed," she says.
Studies have shown that anywhere from 25 to 65 percent of pickup fatalities occur without any collision: Swerving, taking hard turns, or slamming on the brakes can be all it takes. And a recent study at the University of California at Irvine determined that cargo passengers are eight times more likely to die than those in the cab who are buckled in. The end result: More than 150 people die each year, and close to half of them are children and teens.
Smart Safety Steps:
The only prevention is not to let your children ride in the back of a pickup truck -- period. "Kids aren't cargo," DeBlois says.