Three Large Pickups Don't Live up
to Brawny Image in Side Crashes
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ARLINGTON, VA — The Chevrolet Silverado 1500, Dodge Ram 1500, and
Nissan Titan are billed as workhorses, but the side crash protection
these 2009 model large pickups provide is wimpy, at best. The trio
earns either poor or marginal ratings in side tests by the Insurance
Institute for Highway Safety. Even with side airbags, occupant
protection in these crew-cab pickups is no better than marginal.
"The size, weight, and height of these large pickups should help
them ace the side tests just like the other large pickups we've
tested. Not these three," says Institute senior vice president David
Zuby. "They perform worse than many cars we've evaluated."
The Dodge Ram with standard side airbags earns a marginal rating.
The Nissan Titan and Chevrolet Silverado earn poor ratings when
tested without their optional side airbags. The Titan's side rating
improves to marginal in models tested with side airbags, while the
Silverado's optional side airbags don't improve the rating over
models without them. The Silverado's ratings also apply to its twin,
the GMC Sierra 1500, both of which were redesigned in 2007, so the
ratings apply to 2007-09 models. The Ram is a new design for the
2009 model year. The Titan was introduced in the 2004 model year, so
results apply to 2004-09 models.
The Institute's side tests assess occupant protection in vehicles
struck in the side by SUVs or pickups. Results can be compared
across vehicle type and weight categories, while frontal crash test
ratings can't. This is because the kinetic energy involved in the
side test depends on the weight and speed of the moving barrier,
which are the same in every test. In contrast, the kinetic energy
involved in the frontal crash test against an immovable barrier
depends on the test vehicle's speed and weight.
The Ram, Titan, and Silverado should have an advantage in side crash
tests over smaller vehicles, not just because of their size and
weight but also because the dummies' higher seating positions put
their heads and shoulders above the striking barrier. Occupants of
cars, for instance, are more vulnerable because their bodies are in
line with the fronts of vehicles, especially tall ones, which might
hit them in the side.
"These large pickups don't have to work as hard as smaller vehicles
do to protect their occupants. Even with their characteristic
advantages, the Ram, Titan, and Silverado still miss the mark when
it comes to occupant protection in side crashes," Zuby says.
Without side torso airbags, occupants are vulnerable: What's behind
the lackluster performance? In the Silverado's case, it's a
combination of a poor side structure plus the lack of side torso
airbags. The truck's optional side curtain airbags are designed to
protect occupants' heads, and these worked well. But occupants'
upper bodies remain unprotected even with the optional side
"In the Silverado tests, there was a lot of intrusion into the
occupant compartment. With no torso airbags to protect the driver
and rear passenger, measures recorded on the test dummies showed
that rib fractures and internal organ injuries would be likely in a
real-world crash of similar severity," Zuby explains. "Chevy needs
to improve the Silverado's side structure, as well as add padding or
torso airbags to better protect its occupants."
In contrast, the Ram and Titan's side structures are designed to
better limit intrusion. The Ram's side
structure/safety cage earns a good rating, while the Titan's earns
acceptable marks. The Ram has standard head-protecting side curtain
airbags but not torso airbags. Both curtain and side torso bags are
optional in the Titan. Adding torso airbags might improve the Ram's
side protection. The Titan could be improved with some combination
of structural, airbag, or door trim modifications.
"It's certainly possible to design a large pickup that offers good
occupant protection in side crashes," Zuby says. Three previously
evaluated 2009 models are Institute TOP SAFETY PICK award winners.
The Honda Ridgeline, Ford F-150, and Toyota Tundra all have standard
side airbags with torso and head protection and good-rated
The Ram would be a TOP SAFETY PICK contender if its side rating
improves to good, Zuby notes. Dodge improved the seat/head
restraints in the 2009 model to earn a good rating for protection in
rear crashes, while the 2006-08 models earned a poor rating.
Electronic stability control, another criterion to earn the award,
also is standard.
How vehicles are evaluated: The Institute's frontal crashworthiness
evaluations are based on results of 40 mph frontal offset crash
tests. Each vehicle's overall evaluation is based on measurements of
intrusion into the occupant compartment, injury measures recorded on
a Hybrid III dummy in the driver seat, and analysis of slow-motion
film to assess how well the restraint system controlled dummy
movement during the test.
Side evaluations are based on performance in a crash test in which
the side of a vehicle is struck by a barrier moving at 31 mph. The
barrier represents the front end of a pickup or SUV. Ratings reflect
injury measures recorded on two instrumented SID-IIs dummies,
assessment of head protection countermeasures, and the vehicle's
structural performance during the impact.
Rear crash protection is rated according to a two-step procedure.
Starting points for the ratings are measurements of head restraint
geometry — the height of a restraint and its horizontal distance
behind the back of the head of an average-size man. Seat/head
restraints with good or acceptable geometry are tested dynamically
using a dummy that measures forces on the neck. This test simulates
a collision in which a stationary vehicle is struck in the rear at
20 mph. Seats without good or acceptable geometry are rated poor
overall because they can't be positioned to protect many people.