What to Read Next

Safest Pickup Trucks

Jamie Page Deaton
February 25, 2011

Driving a truck is a completely different experience than driving a car. Trucks tend to be bigger and heavier than cars are. They also ride higher and handle differently. Choosing to drive a truck brings a whole host of safety concerns, so finding the safest truck you can is key.

Truck Crash Test Ratings

Comparing pickup truck crash-test ratings is challenging because within one model, there are so many different configurations. Since you can choose between two- and four-wheel drive, regular, extended and crew cabs, sorting through all the crash-test scores and comparing them across models is daunting.

When it comes to crash protection, full-size pickups tend to do a better job than compact pickups.  That’s because full-size pickups have a size advantage in most collisions and they tend to have more standard safety features like side airbags. But if you’re looking for a compact pickup, there are ones with good crash-test scores out there. The Toyota Tacoma gets top scores of “Good” in front- and side-impact crash tests conducted by the Insurance Institute of Highway Safety (IIHS). However, it earned a score of “Marginal,” the second lowest, in IIHS roof-strength tests. With the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), the Tacoma earns decent crash-test scores. The crew cab model with rear-wheel drive earned a four (out of five) star overall crash-test rating, which includes three stars out of five for front crashes, five out of five stars for side crashes and a four-star rollover rating.

Among full-size pickups, there are plenty of models that earn good crash-test ratings. Almost all full-size pickups get scores of “Good” from IIHS in frontal crash tests. When it comes to side-impact crash tests, the IIHS scores are a mixed bag. The Toyota Tundra gets a score of “Good,” while the GMC Sierra and Chevrolet Silverado earn the second-highest score, “Acceptable.” The Dodge Ram earns a score of “Marginal” -- the second lowest score possible. When you look at NHTSA crash-test ratings, the Silverado and Sierra get five-star overall crash-test ratings, with five stars in front and side impacts and a four-star rollover rating. The Dodge Ram hasn’t been tested by NHTSA as of this writing, and the Toyota Tundra earns a three-star rollover rating with two-wheel drive. It hasn’t undergone any other NHTSA crash tests yet.

Important Safety Features for Trucks

Because driving a truck raises different safety issues than driving a car does, it’s important to make sure that you get the right safety features. Sometimes that can mean getting extra-cost safety options. While they add to the truck’s price, if they keep you from having an accident, they’re worth it.

Because trucks are heavier than cars, it takes more space and force to stop them. While not every truck sold in the U.S. has standard anti-lock brakes, they all offer ABS as options, and they’re worth getting.  Electronic Stability Control (ESC) helps drivers avoid skids. In 2012, ESC will be mandatory for all cars and trucks sold in U.S. -- but until then, ESC is an option worth paying for. Since trucks are so much taller than cars, they are at a higher risk for rollovers. Roll stability control can help prevent rollovers. Since many trucks tend not to do that well in roof-strength tests, opting for roll stability control can help you avoid an accident that could lead to severe injuries.

Other features that help drivers are things like blind spot warning. It’s a pricy option on many trucks, but given how hard it can be to see motorcycles and even smaller cars when you’re driving a full-size truck, it can be worth it. Also, seeing to the rear of a truck can be tough. Because of their high beds, seeing children or small adults who may be behind a truck is difficult. A rear-obstacle detection system or rearview camera is optional on most trucks. Not only can these systems help you avoid a back-over accident, a rearview camera can make hooking up a trailer a lot easier too.

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: an able 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 car in front of you. 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. Also 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 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.