By on January 4, 2008

Pickup trucks may not be the deathtraps the NHTSA and IIHS tests make them out to be. Forbes reports research done by Virginia Commonwealth University that compared crash test ratings against data on fatal crashes. They found that while cars with higher crash test ratings show fewer fatalities than those with lower ratings, the same wasn't true for pickup trucks. In the NHTSA and IIHS tests, trucks are crashed into stationary barriers while in the real world, most crashes are vehicle-to-vehicle. In those cases, researchers postulate, the ladder frame in the pickups act as a "battering ram," allowing it to withstand an impact from a smaller, lighter vehicle better than when striking a stationary barrier. Of course, the IIHS dismisses the idea, saying they have no evidence that ladder-frame construction has any effect on crashworthiness. After all, why let real-world facts get in the way of laboratory results?

Get the latest TTAC e-Newsletter!


22 Comments on “Real-World Crash Data Disputes NHTSA and IIHS Test Results...”

  • avatar

    What happens when two ladder frame trucks collide? It’s bound to happen in the land of the truck.

  • avatar

    Good point, Samir. That’s what the tests simulate in the first place.

    And lest we forget, nearly half of fatalities occur in single-vehicle crashes, and the tests also simulate vehicle-to-fixed object collisions.

    BTW, most current pickups rated by the IIHS now earn GOOD frontal ratings. If I recall correctly, many of these newer models (such as the current F-150, not the disaster shown in the video) were not included in the VCU study.

  • avatar

    So basically pick-up trucks are terrible at hitting immobile obstacles, but act as “battering rams” when hitting other cars, thus most surely killing said cars’ occupants?
    Isn’t that grounds for a lawsuit?

    I always find funny and sad the fact that many SUV/pick-up buyers use “safety” as a reason to buy, completely oblivious to the fact that the vehicle they buy is also more likely to kill anybody else they get in contact with.

  • avatar

    This stuff is complicated. It seems to me that the frontal crash tests, in which the tested vehicle is rammed into a stationary barrier, provides a good indicator of what happens when the vehicle rams into a stationary barrier; e.g. a bridge. No surprise. I’m not clear on what the side impact test proves. An object of some weight and some speed is rammed into the side of the tested vehicle. But what stops the impacting object, and how does this compare with a real-world t-bone crash? In other side impact test, the tested vehicle is rammed into something like a guard rail as I understand it.

    Obviously a 2-star one-ton pickup hitting a 5-star Civic will not work out well for the Civic occupants.

    IMO, the best indicator of vehicle safety is the IIHS report on injury claims. These injury claims by make and model are reported by IIHS in the same report that shows claims for repairs and thefts. In general, the injury claims track well with vehicle weight. Thus, large SUVs and pickups look pretty safe in this report. Some confusion creeps in since many important factors are not included; things like miles driven, seat belt usage, driving style and others. So we see the Corvette looking pretty safe even though the driver’s head is at bumper height in a side impact, etc. If we look at some data available on Autotrader by model (some calculation required) we’ll see that Corvettes, for example, are not driven much. Same for some other models like the Grand Marquis. Another consideration is injuries vs. deaths. Pickups have had a high death rate relative to injuries compared to cars. Several factors bear here such as high center of gravity which helps the pickups flip over, the drivers who may well be less likely to use seat belts, the demographics of the drivers, etc. The increasing availability of curtain air bags and stability control on pickups and SUVs should tilt things in favor of the big stuff IMO.

    The IIHS injury claim report presents some odd info at times though such as sustantial variation between twin models such as the Tahoe and Yukon. Last time I checked, the Sequoia with lots of airbags has a higher injury rate than the Tahoe. One thing that is pretty consistent is that such brands as Kia, Mitsubishi and Suzuki are not safe.

    The data are available to NHTSA and IIHS to answer all these questions, but they just don’t publish it from what I can find.

  • avatar

    The problem with barrier tests is the observation that you could replace the barrier with a vehicle that is identical to the one being crashed, proceeding at the same speed and on a reciprocal heading. The findings here are completely unsurprising. Barrier crash an M-1 Abrams (good luck finding a barrier for that) and its obvious you’ll get different results than crashing same into a Camry. Less exaggerated examples change the outcome but not the validity of what the University has done.

    And +1 on mel23’s comments on IIHS data. I look at it for injury and for theft and collision repair costs too. Here’s an instance when the insurance industry’s agenda is beneficial to those who learn from it.

  • avatar
    Alex Dykes

    Sounds plausible to me. Volvo has been saying this for years as well… (Just the part about real world vs lab tests)

  • avatar

    AKM :
    So basically pick-up trucks are terrible at hitting immobile obstacles, but act as “battering rams” when hitting other cars, thus most surely killing said cars’ occupants?
    Isn’t that grounds for a lawsuit?

    The rigidity required for a pickup to function as a pickup makes it like a pre-crumple zone vehicle.

    It’s hard to tow stuff if you’re always ripping your truck in half.

    I always find funny and sad the fact that many SUV/pick-up buyers use “safety” as a reason to buy, completely oblivious to the fact that the vehicle they buy is also more likely to kill anybody else they get in contact with.

    Doubtful, the reason behind buying a bigger vehicle for ‘safety’ is that people know the bigger car is typically going to win in a crash. Everybody knows the joke about hitting a dog with a VW beetle and losing.

  • avatar

    Thomas Wenzel,P.E., wrote up some observations around 2000 indicating that, in the real world, once you had a well engineered mid-size car you were statistically as safe as you would be had you driven an SUV instead. Of course, if you are prescient and know that your upcoming accident is a head-on, take the SUV….

  • avatar

    Who cares? Buckle up and hope for the best.

    Oh…BTW…ever hear the one about the wonderful Crown Victoria that was crushed between two semi trucks…and the officer walked away with very minor injuries? Read the story and see the amazing pictures here:

    Full Frame baby!!!

  • avatar

    According to some real world data, albeit from earlier in tghe decade, real world data for pickups is not so good, even when only driver deaths are considered. Driver death rates per million vehicles on the road for the Avalon, Camry, Jetta, Windstar, and Accord, for example, were 40, 41, 47, 37, and 54 respectively. Driver deaths for the best pickups on this survey, the Toyota Tacoma and the Ford F-siersies were 111 and 110 respectively.

    “Other deaths” for the F series were 128, 4-5 times as great as for the cars and the windstar above.

    Google “How the SUV ran over automotive safety” and the article containing these numbers should come up.

  • avatar

    The government has their crash requirements all wrong. People have plenty of incentive to buy a vehicle that will protect them; they have no incentive to buy a vehicle that will protect others on the road. Instead, the government crash test should measure how much damage the vehicle being test does to a target vehicle and require that the test vehicle cause no more than a certain amount of damage to the target. The result of the current (backwards) testing is an ever-increasing arms race of bigger and heavier.

  • avatar

    The IIHS dismisses this? Crashing stuff into walls only goes so far…and they are starting to lose credibility with me.

    That battering ram theory explains it: ladder frames have more load bearing weight in their crumple zones (relative to unibody crumple zones) and that body on top has WAY more inertia…making them death machines for everyone outside the truck/Crown Vic.

    I’d love to see the results of a head-on collision crash test of a full size truck with a Honda Ridgeline, and a $20,000 Crown Vic with a $20,000 Camry. The battering rams are gonna win.

  • avatar

    I’d love to see the results of a head-on collision crash test of a full size truck with a Honda Ridgeline, and a $20,000 Crown Vic with a $20,000 Camry. The battering rams are gonna win.

    Sajeev, just watch World’s Wildest Police Videos for that last comparison…:)

  • avatar

    The authors of this study are economics professors. They work with numbers all day and have limited knowledge of the physics involved. Their speculation on this subject is at best a wild ass guess. The fact that they conveniently placed contradictory data outside the scope of their study is also somewhat suspect.

    I think we can all agree that cars which do not have their passenger compartment crumple like tin cans when crashed into a wall are safer than those which fold like a house of cards.

  • avatar

    This is similar effect to this Swedish crash test of a VW Vanagon and a Volvo station wagon

  • avatar

    Oh…BTW…ever hear the one about the wonderful Crown Victoria that was crushed between two semi trucks…and the officer walked away with very minor injuries?

    I saw a story and pictures of the same thing happening to someone driving a Subaru WRX.

  • avatar

    The conventional wisdom of ‘full frame = safer (for the occupants)’ and ‘heavier = better’ are compelling arguments, especially when supported photos. However, I’m not completely convinced.

    Modernity of design can offset and will often trump good ol’ fashioned frame rails and tonnage in terms of crash survivability without their negative… ahem, impact, on other vehicles, or, for that matter, fuel efficiency, performance and handling.

    Nemphre, The news story about the WRX crushed between 2 semis is here. The driver had just scratches after he was cut from the wreckage.

    The UK’s Fifth Gear TV show has conducted a couple of crash tests, the results of which make interesting viewing.

    One test is an offset head on crash at 40 mph between a Land Rover Discovery (old design, body on frame) and a Renault Espace (modern, monocoque chassis minivan). While the Disco’s airbags failed to deploy, thus making a comparison of dummy loads impossible, it was apparent that the occupants of the Renault would have fared much better. In fact, it is apparent that the Discovery’s frame rails carried the force of the crash into the passenger cell, rather than around it.
    View Here

    In another test, they crashed a 3yr old Renault (again) Modus supermini and a 15yr old Volvo 940 wagon head on into each other at 40 mph. Perhaps it’s obvious that a modern car is safer than an old one. In this example the technology advantage enjoyed by the smaller car outweighs the size and sheer Volvoness of the 940, quite considerably.
    View Here

    The above examples hardly constitute a total repudiation of the conventional wisdom and the two crash tests are just that, tests, not real world accidents. But they do illustrate that this is a complicated business. To those who say a Crown Vic is a safer bet than a Camry, or a Silverado a better bet than a Ridgeline, I’m not quite so sure anymore, both the Chevy and especially the Ford are fundamentally older designs, their sturdiness may well be offset by the modernity of the Toyota and Honda.

    Side impacts, of course are a whole other ball of wax.

  • avatar

    If your design intent is to save the vehicle, then by all means bring back stout full length frames. If your design intent is to save the occupants, then what we see in all modern cars is the best approach known. Namely, a strong, well-padded passenger compartment combined with front and rear sections that are designed to crush in a controlled manner that dissipates crash energy and reduces peak accelerations to survivable levels. Add in engine/trans subframes designed to shear downwards under the passenger compartment.

    There is no such thing as the frame rails being able to carry the force of the collision around the passengers. The stronger the vehicle, the more it responds as a rigid structure, exactly the opposite of the behavior needed to reduce deceleration to survivable levels for the occupants.

    For most people, a unibody truck/SUV could work just fine – plenty strong enough for hauling weekend junk. But its cheaper and easier to use the antique body on frame and a lot of people want them that way.

  • avatar

    allythom: problem is those old/new crash tests by Fifth Gear involved vehicles that were designed before/after Euro NCAP went into play in 1997. Am I correct in assuming this? Seems like Fifth Gear freely admits it too…even if its edited to show theatrics over the hard facts.

    The only way to make everyone safe in these situations is to ban body on frame cars/trucks entirely.

    Or make it a law that body on framers are only allowed to crash into brick walls.

  • avatar

    No fault insurance has contributed to the general discrimination in favor of PU trucks (and SUVs). The basic argument in favor of no fault is good, but one problem is that it apportions damages without regard to the vehicles involved. To make things fairer, and this doesn’t take into account the ‘safety’ of a battering ram design, make the damages proportional to the ratio of the kinetic energy of each vehicle in the crash. Insurance rates would rise appropriately for those purchasing this safety at the expense of their neighbors.

    It would also help for these vehicles to be treated consistently with their regulatory status (fuel economy, emissions, safety requirements). If they are trucks then get them out of the left lanes, limit their speed limits and ban them from ‘car only’ roadways (as they were for years from the parkways in the NYC area).

    SUVs have been popular because of their height, giving a ‘commanding’ view, and weight. The problem is not so much the fact people choose SUVs in part because of perceived safety, but that they are able to do so for no cost beyond gas consumption. The expense is borne by other drivers who cannot see and who fare poorly in any accident with these vehicles.

  • avatar

    If you go to the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety website, and skip past all the fear-mongering on their first page, they have a link to insurance loss rating for vehicles 2004-2006.

    The numbers are class specific, but the colors are in comparasion to all vehicles on the road.

    Pick up trucks are nearly all much better than average on “personal injury protection” and “medical payment” compared to all vehicles on the market.

    Statistically, you are much safer in a pick up truck than other vehicles when you are in a crash.

  • avatar

    Those numbers tend to be colored more by driver demographics than anything else. For example, the Mercury Grand Marquis is rated as substantially better than average while the crown vic is rated average, but the cars are exactly the same. If you use their numbers as a basis for determining which car is safer, than a high end convertible sports car must be the safest in the world.

Read all comments

Back to TopLeave a Reply

You must be logged in to post a comment.

Recent Comments

  • 28-Cars-Later: Blasphemy. C3 can never fail, and by extension, D1.
  • petey: I dunno, I love the styling of the accord coupe just like i love the TL of the same generation. But you cannot...
  • dantes_inferno: You need to order the Exxon option with this vehicle. A dedicated Exxon tanker truck escort to keep...
  • MoparRocker74: THIS. Also, what they would more likely care about is whether you have side mirrors relocated when...
  • MoparRocker74: Never driven an old CJ Jeep, I see. I’ve owned 3, and all had the “full view” soft doors at some...

New Car Research

Get a Free Dealer Quote

Who We Are

  • Matthew Guy
  • Timothy Cain
  • Adam Tonge
  • Bozi Tatarevic
  • Chris Tonn
  • Corey Lewis
  • Mark Baruth
  • Ronnie Schreiber