Rules of the Road: Is it legal to ride in the back of a pickup?


Question: Is it legal for people (kids and adults) to ride in the back of a pickup truck?

Answer: This question comes up occasionally. The legality is covered under RCW 46.61.688, Safety belts, use required.

If you are 16 or older and if all of the seat belt positions have occupants, it would be legal to ride in the bed of the pickup truck. You must be in the bed of the truck, not on the rail or on the wheel well. If you are under 16, it is not legal.

The legality of this must also be tempered by the fact that if you have a crash, you have no protection from becoming a projectile launched from the rear of the truck. The consequences of this can be catastrophic.

Q: A few weeks ago, my husband and I were driving on Sunset Drive, going on the southbound Interstate 5 entrance. As we got onto the entrance, we saw an ambulance with its emergency lights on go through a red light at the intersection coming from James Street headed towards the southbound I-5 entrance as well. Since the ambulance had its lights on, my husband waited for the ambulance to go ahead of us. Once the ambulance was in front of us, the emergency lights were turned off, and the ambulance was going back to a normal speed. The emergency lights did not get turned back on once the ambulance was on the freeway. It seemed like the lights were just being used by the ambulance to get through the red light at the intersection and then ahead of the line of traffic behind us coming from Sunset to get on I-5. My husband and I were wondering if emergency vehicle drivers are allowed to have their lights on if there is no emergency? It seems a bit abusive of the rule to yield to emergency vehicles.

A: Thank you for yielding to the ambulance. Not knowing specifically what had happened on that date, I can only give you my experience. There are many instances where law enforcement, fire or ambulance personnel are dispatched to a call that requires them to use lights and/or sirens. Occasionally another unit that had been busy will clear what they were doing and will then take the call because they are closer to it. In those cases, the responding emergency vehicle then returns to normal speed (causing all around to wonder what happened).


Rules of the Road is a regular column with questions and answers on road laws, safe driving habits and general police practices.

Answers come from David Wright, a retired officer from the Bellingham Police Department who is now serving on the Whatcom County Traffic Safety Task Force.

For previous Rules of the Road columns or to ask a question, go to

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