Three children in the back of a pickup truck


Riding in the back of a pickup truck is nothing unusual all over Jamaica. In fact, riding in the back of a dump truck, or on a flatbed trailer is not unusual either. Despite some vague awareness that the practice may be dangerous, we have become so accustomed to it, that we hardly give second thought to the hazard or to the sometimes-easy and safer options that may be available. We have disconnected the hazard from the consequences and suppressed the knowledge that the back of a pickup is not a space for carrying people. In December 2008, 14 persons perished when a market truck on the way to the Coronation market in Kingston, plunged into a gully at Dam Bridge in the lower Rio Grande Valley. The outcome could have been different if the goods had travelled by truck and the humans by bus.

Passengers on the way to and from work

For the average citizen, this may be an accepted way to travel. However, industry seems to have also become comfortable with this travel mode. Not only can you see persons travelling to and from work in the back of marked company vehicles, but it is common practice to see persons seated on specialist equipment such as asphalt distribution trucks, water trucks or concrete pumping trucks. Some of these persons are not on seats, while others are seen on highways at normal travel speeds on seats designed for low speed or stationary operations.

The trucking of building materials, dry goods, furniture and other items is often done with one or more passengers on the back of the vehicle. The latest to have joined the party all over the island are the Police, who are combining many persons in the back of Hilux type pickups with often erratic high-speed driving.

Passengers on trucks. In the case of the water truck, there is no seat. On the other two units, the operator seat was not intended to be used for highway travel

The Dangers

I would like to describe what can go wrong by using two firsthand accounts.

1. Many years ago, I was driving to Port Royal and came upon a JDF Land Rover which had a canvas covering for the bed and which got out of control and overturned a few minutes earlier. I am looking at the photos, but they are much too graphic for this article. All occupants of the bed who were members of the Coast Guard were ejected and one occupant who obviously fell on his head was dead. Others were scattered all over the roadway. On December 27, 2016, another JDF soldier was killed and three others seriously injured in a rollover of a Land Cruiser near to Cousins Cove In Hanover. Photos showed obvious ejection.

2. One early morning one the Cave Valley to Aenon Town main road we came across a pickup that had been hit head on by a Confidence country bus around a blind corned. No one in the bus was injured, but there were two men who were sitting on the floor of the pickup and facing its rear, whose heads and slammed against the cab, and who despite not showing any external injury, were dead. They had not been ejected.

Passengers in the bed of pickup and light trucks

The dangers are obvious.

1. Given that there is no proper seating and no proper restraining system, there is the possibility of someone falling from the vehicle during normal driving. The consequences of such a fall would depend on the situation are almost unpredictable but unlikely to be favorable. On March 15, of this year a man fell from a Coaster bus on Highway 2000 and was then immediately run over by another bus.

2. A person could fall from the vehicle or suffer injury by way of forceful contact with the body of the vehicle during a sharp maneuver or in the event of contact with another vehicle. Again, the consequence would be dependent on the situation.

3. A person could be ejected from the vehicle in the event of contact with another vehicle or in the case of a rollover. The consequences of a high-speed ejection could be severe or fatal.

For persons in Construction and other industries, what can you do?

Is you site short of personnel carriers? Do you have surveyors, laborers and other persons routinely travelling in the back of pickup trucks? Is you backhoe sometimes used as a bus?

1. Communicate. Acknowledge the risk and share the information with your employees. You may not be able to fix the problem immediately, but awareness will affect the response to the risk. For example:

 A. drivers could adjust their style of driving

B. drivers could adjust their speed

C. passengers could utilize all the available seats before going into the bed.

Passenger behind the cab of Shacman water truck

D. drivers should be discouraged from “giving rides” to persons not connected to the company. This act of kindness can have terrible liability consequences.

E. Drivers should encourage passengers to behave responsibly. In the photo below, the driver is totally unconcerned that his passenger in the back of the truck is sleeping.

Passenger sleeping on the back of a light truck

2. Reduce the exposure to the risk by providing seats as soon as possible. In the short term this may include renting a small bus or other suitable vehicle. Moving passengers by backhoes, loaders or other single seat equipment is not a safe option.

Passengers on the side of a backhoe

3. Plan for your next project. Movement of persons to difficult to access sites and movement of persons on the site should be an integral part of project planning. Total labor on site and their need to move (beyond short walking distances) will be different for different phases of the project. Double cab pickups which can seat up to 5 persons or Hiace sized buses which can seat up to 14 persons are suitable options. Both units can also be very useful in material movement on the site. A bus for instance can not only be used to move potable water containers, food or individuals, but can be used to move small tools, surveying equipment, small quantities of packaged building materials, and other items which need protection from the elements during transport. If equipped with 4-wheel drive, they can be of much assistance on unpaved or muddy site roads.

4. Review you current operating systems to look for obvious exposures to risk that may not have been apparent. For example, the pump attendant has always travelled on the operator seat of the concrete pumper truck when it is being sent to a site. This is neither important or necessary but has grown up a custom and practice.

5. Develop and deploy safety rules, train employees, and develop strategies to ensure conformance to the safety rules which prohibit travelling in the back of pickup trucks. In the event of a major injury and one that will require long term support and care for an injured party, even a novice attorney will be able to persuade the court that as an employer you did not provide Safe System of Work by having your employee travel in the back of a pickup truck. You could be looking at a J$100 million judgement and perhaps an insurance coverage of $7 million. Can you survive a $93 million payout?

Typical construction site images


Perhaps the most important personal task for all of us is to change our behavior and to try to influence others do the same. No matter how tempting the invitation is to ride in the back of the Hilux to the beach, it should be resisted. It may look difficult to give up the offer of a ride to church or school, but the risks are too great.

Getting a ride to church

Try to get the message across, that either sitting on a barrel coming from the port or on top of the load on a slow-moving delivery truck, you are severely exposed.

Protect yourself. Protect your family. Protect you associates.  And if you do expose yourself to the risk, be extremely alert and be prepared to respond in the event of danger. It is not good enough to partially restrain the donkey and then put yourself in the line of fire to be crushed by him in the event of a sudden stopping of the vehicle.

Donkey is restrained, man is not.

Conliffe Wilmot-Simpson

May 23, 2022

About conliffews

First time blogger
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