Not your granddad’s pickup: Kansas City’s favorite trucks can be a huge road hazard | Opinion

Americans love their pickup trucks, and Kansas City is no exception. Ford Motor Company’s F-series has been the biggest-selling lineup of vehicles in the country for four decades, and the Toyota Camry is the only sedan in Car and Driver magazine’s five most popular models of 2022.

Stuart Williams, a sales and leasing professional at Dave Cross Motors in Lee’s Summit, sees that popularity firsthand every day. Trucks “are sold before they even arrive at the dealership,” he said Thursday. “They’re that popular.” Car-buying website iSeeCars ranks light-duty pickup sales in Kansas and Missouri near the middle of the pack nationwide — No. 17 and 23 respectively — but trucks and SUVs dominate the roads in Kansas City.

The Ford F-150 — which is built alongside the Transit cargo van at the Kansas City Assembly Plant — is U.S. drivers’ favorite truck, selling more than 650,000 last year. Add in Chevy Silverados, Ram Trucks pickups, Toyota RAV4s and GMC Sierras, and way more than 2 million new big trucks hit our roads last year alone.

A major part of the appeal of those vehicles is their size. “Mostly, the domestic manufacturers are shifting to SUVs and trucks,” Williams said. “They aren’t making a family sedan like they once were. … You find half the people aren’t even using them like a truck anymore. They’re driving them more for everyday things.”

And the difference between those big, heavy trucks and the four-doors they’re replacing is getting starker every day. “Pickups: From Workhorse to Joyride,” a new project from online news site Axios, offers a deep dive into how passenger truck cabs are growing wider, deeper and taller. At the same time, their cargo beds have been shrinking dramatically through the years. In the 1970s, the bed of the F-150 made up about half of the vehicle’s length, Aixios showed. In the 2020s, about a third is now devoted to payload.

Today’s Ford F-150 barely looks like the models built in the ’70s, which were all about hauling, not comfort.
Today’s Ford F-150 barely looks like the models built in the ’70s, which were all about hauling, not comfort.

Manufacturers have made huge upgrades in passenger comfort, too. The interior of your average pickup of the past was a fairly bare-bones affair. Today, drivers enjoy heated bucket seats, 13.4-inch touchscreen controls, shift controls on the floor and a high vantage point over traffic. “The design is very desired, and they’re easy to drive,” Williams said.

More comfortable trucks translates into a major shift in what people do with them, too. Axios looked at yearly surveys of F-150 owners from 2012 to 2021 and determined that 87% of them use the trucks frequently for shopping and errands, 70% for pleasure driving, and 52% for commuting. Only 28% do personal hauling frequently, and 63% reported they “rarely or never” use the pickups for towing.

Hatchback and sedan drivers are acutely aware of one of the biggest contrasts between their vehicles and today’s new class of supersized trucks: height. Many pickup and SUV drivers like a higher seat that gives them a better view of the road. But that can put car drivers at a disadvantage. “When two vehicles of different sizes collide, the occupants of the smaller vehicle are more likely to be injured than the occupants of the larger vehicle,” read the summary of a 2019 report from the journal Traffic Injury Prevention. Pickups significantly increase the likelihood of fatalities in collisions.

Car drivers are acutely aware that truck headlights often cast beams at angles that can be blinding at night — especially annoying and outright dangerous with new generations of ultra-bright LED and other high-intensity lamps. Luckily, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration finally cleared the way last year for “adaptive driving beam headlights” that keep the glare out of motorists’ eyes. The technology has already been in use other countries for years. It should become mandatory in the U.S. as a basic safety measure.

The Axios report also notes that higher truck cabs mean less visibility of obstacles close by: “Drivers of today’s trucks sit much higher, creating a blind spot where small children or wheelchair users are hidden from view,” it pointed out.

There’s no indication big trucks are falling out of fashion any time soon, and more efficient electric models, such as the attractive F-150 Lightning, will appeal to a class of potential purchasers put off by gas guzzlers. As long as individuals get to make their own choices about personal transportation, motorists will have to get along as best they can on the roads. If your decision is to sit up high and pilot a big truck or SUV down the highway, the sports car or station wagon beside you has just one request: Keep an eye out for the littler guy.