Trucks are bigger and heavier than cars. Because of the laws of physics, they tend to fare better in crashes than smaller vehicles. However, because trucks have a center of gravity that is higher than most vehicles, they are more likely to roll over in an accident. Though trucks go through the same safety requirements as other passenger vehicles sold in the United States, some are safer than others. Choosing to drive a truck brings to light some safety concerns, so finding one of the safest models available is important.
Truck Crash Test Ratings
Learning about pickup truck crash test ratings is challenging because within one model, there are many different configurations, and those configurations tend to have different safety ratings. For instance, regular and super cab Ford F-150 models earned four out of five stars in front-impact crash tests conducted by the federal government, but the super crew model received only three stars. Correspondingly, adding four-wheel drive to your truck may make it more likely to roll over. The Ford F-150 regular cab with two-wheel drive earns four out of five stars in government rollover tests, while four-wheel drive models earn three out of five stars.
When it comes to crash protection, full-size pickups do a better job at protecting occupants than compact pickups. That’s because large trucks have a size advantage in most collisions, and they tend to have more standard safety features, like side air bags. But if you’re looking for a compact pickup truck, some have better crash test scores than others. The non-profit Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) scores vehicles in front-, side- and rear-impact crash tests, as well as a roof strength test. Trucks can be given a rating of Good, Acceptable, Marginal or Poor based on how they performed in each of the tests. It’s fairly common for a compact pickup truck to receive a lower score for the roof strength test. For example, the Toyota Tacoma received a Good in all categories except in roof strength, where it received a Marginal.
Among full-size pickups, there are plenty of models that earn good crash test ratings. The crew cab models of the Ford F-150 and Toyota Tundra were both named IIHS Top Safety Picks for their top scores. No pickup trucks earn five-star overall crash ratings from the federal government’s National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), but many earn four stars overall. The Chevrolet Silverado 1500 and its corporate sibling, the GMC Sierra 1500, both earn four-star overall ratings from NHTSA in crew cab models, with four-star frontal crash and rollover ratings and five-star side crash ratings.
If you’re in the market for a heavy-duty pickup, you should note that neither the IIHS nor NHTSA crash test these trucks. That’s because they’re classified as commercial vehicles, so they’re subject to a slightly different set of safety requirements than light-duty vehicles like compact and full-size trucks.
Important Safety Features for Trucks
All pickup trucks are subject to most of the same rules that govern cars and SUVs, so there are some safety features that every truck comes with. Every truck has front air bags, anti-lock brakes, electronic stability control and tire-pressure monitoring systems. But other standard and available safety features can help you choose the safest truck possible.
Compact pickups don’t have as many high-tech safety features as full-size trucks do, but they still have the standard safety features. The Toyota Tacoma comes with Toyota’s smart stop throttle override system. The Tacoma offers an optional rearview mirror with an integrated backup camera. The Nissan Frontier offers a rearview monitor and rear sonar as options.
Opting for a full-size or heavy-duty pickup means you can equip your truck with safety features similar to those found in family sedans. The Ford F-150 and Ford Super Duty trucks can be outfitted with reverse parking sensors and a rearview camera. The Cadillac Escalade EXT comes standard with all of these features, plus GM’s OnStar telematics system, which can automatically notify emergency responders in the event of an accident.
Driving a Truck Safely
While it’s important to have the right safety features for your truck, there’s one that can’t be ordered from the factory and is the feature that matters the most: a capable and aware driver. When you’re driving a truck, you need to pay extra attention. Because of their size and increased stopping distance relative to cars, you’ll need extra space and time to maneuver. Leave a large distance between your truck and the vehicle in front of you while driving. Take extra care when changing lanes and make sure you check your blind spot. These issues become even more important when you’re hauling or towing. Practice driving with a trailer, and never haul or tow something that reduces your outward visibility. Adding weight to your truck, either in the bed or on a trailer, makes it that much harder to stop. When towing or hauling, you need to keep an even larger following distance.
There’s no question that driving a truck -- even a compact one -- can be somewhat daunting. But by finding a truck with good crash test ratings and the right safety features, and by doing your part to be a safe driver, you and your truck can log thousands of accident-free miles.