Riding in the truck bed is dangerous for a variety of reasons. First, there are no seat belts in the back of a truck. Anyone involved in a collision in the back of a truck will invariably be thrown from the truck. According to the National Conference of State Legislatures, this sort of accident accounts for more than 200 deaths a year, nationwide. Still, only 34 states have laws that prohibit riding in the back of a truck.
Virginia law prohibits passengers under the age of 16 from riding in truck beds. It does not prohibit adults from riding back there.
In Maryland, anyone over the age of 16 may ride in the back of the truck. If you are 15, you may ride in the back as long as the truck is traveling 25 mph or lower. However, Maryland makes an exception for pickup trucks that have covered cargo areas – the reasoning being that the covered cargo area will contain the person in the event of an accident.
West Virginia, on the other hand, has absolutely no law governing who may ride in the back of the truck. In the absence of a law, it is perfectly permissible to ride in the truck bed.
In South Carolina, only people under the age of 15 are prohibited from riding in a pickup truck. However, South Carolina makes several exceptions. For example, the child may ride back there (1) with an adult, (2) in emergency situations, (3) while hunting or in some agricultural enterprise.
In North Carolina, only children under the age of 12 are prohibited from riding in a truck bed. As you can see, truck bed laws vary greatly from jurisdiction to jurisdiction. As a general rule, the laws become more and more lax as the state becomes more and more rural. This is because of the necessities of farm life that sometimes require children to ride in the back of a pickup truck.
In any case, if you can avoid riding in the back or having a child back there, you should do so. This practice costs the nation about 200 lives per year. Any steps we can take toward prevention should be taken.