Q: My wife and I disagree on the appropriate (legal) way to transport six people in my five-passenger full-size pickup. I know it’s legal to carry a passenger more than 16 years old in the bed of the truck, but she insists its safer to put four passengers across the rear bench with two passengers double buckling. The law is not clear on what to do when there are more passengers than seat belts.
Answer: You should not put more occupants in a vehicle than the vehicle is equipped with seat belts for, according to Lt. Brian Dobey of the Winston-Salem Police Department. “The vehicle’s occupancy is based on the number of designated seats and restraint devices,” he said. “Once this number is exceeded, the vehicle is considered to be overcrowded.
“Except as otherwise provided in G.S. 20-137.1, each occupant of a motor vehicle manufactured with seat belts shall have a seat belt properly fastened about his or her body at all times when the vehicle is in forward motion on a street or highway in this state.”
There are some exceptions, such as:
- A driver or occupant of a noncommercial motor vehicle with a medical or physical condition that prevents appropriate restraint by a safety belt or with a professionally certified mental phobia against the wearing of vehicle restraints.
- A motor vehicle operated by a rural letter carrier of the United States Postal Service while performing duties as a rural letter carrier and a motor vehicle operated by a newspaper delivery person while actually engaged in delivery of newspapers along the person’s specified route.
- A driver or passenger frequently stopping and leaving the vehicle or delivering property from the vehicle if the speed of the vehicle between stops does not exceed 20 miles per hour.
- Any vehicle registered and licensed as a property-carrying vehicle in accordance with G.S. 20-88, while being used for agricultural purposes in intrastate commerce.
- a motor vehicle not required to be equipped with seat safety belts under federal law.
- Any occupant of a motor home, as defined in G.S. 20-4.01(27)k, other than the driver and front seat passengers.
- Any occupant, while in the custody of a law enforcement officer, being transported in the backseat of a law enforcement vehicle.
- A passenger of a residential garbage or recycling truck while the truck is operating during collection rounds.
Transporting a passenger over 16 years old on the cargo bed of a truck is legal, but not recommended due to safety concerns, Dobey said. To be able to transport a passenger under 16 years of age in the rear cargo area of a truck, the driver would have to follow guidelines spelled out by statute 20-135.2B, including:
- An adult is present in the bed or cargo area of the vehicle and is supervising the child.
- An emergency situation exists.
- The vehicle is being operated in a parade.
- The vehicle is being operated in an agricultural enterprise, including providing transportation to and from the principal place of the agricultural enterprise.
Additionally, information on school buses and safety belts can be found at www.ncbus safety.org/seatbelts.html.