Pickup Vs SUV: Which Is The Safer Choice?

June 19, 2011

Recently we reported on a new Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) study that compares the relative safety of SUVs and passenger cars—and finds that SUVs are now the safer choice. Adjusted fatality rates are about 50 percent lower overall for them than for passenger cars.

After reading that piece, Boyd Miner in Gray Court, South Carolina, wrote us to ask about how pickups stack up, comparatively—especially when looking at full-size pickups like the 2011 Dodge Ram 1500 Crew Cab.

Unfortunately, we don't have such a clear, general answer for Mr. Miner, or other shoppers who are debating between a pickup and an SUV—or to those curious about whether they might be safer in a pickup versus a car.

Looking at driver deaths per million registered vehicle years—adapted for how far vehicles are driven—pickups in the 3,000-pound to 4,000-pound range (unladen) are still considerably more dangerous than passenger cars and SUVs. As soon as you get over 4,000 pounds and into full-size pickup territory, trucks are about on equal ground with cars (38 overall, versus 41 for cars and 30 for SUVs). Getting even heavier, to the 4,501-pound-and-up range (where there aren't enough cars, statistically), SUVs are significantly safer than full-size trucks of the same weight (20 for SUVs, versus 49 for pickups, in the over-5,000-pound category).

So one generalization is that large, heavy pickups tend to be safer than passenger cars, even including the heaviest passenger cars.

But there are plenty of confusing numbers in tackling the SUV-versus-pickup question. For instance, the Nissan Armada 4WD has one of the lowest rates of driver deaths of any vehicle—a statistical round to zero—yet the Nissan Titan Crew Cab 2WD, which is structurally related to the Armada, has the second-highest fatality rate of any vehicle, after only the Nissan 350Z, and in the company of risky rides like the Chevrolet Aveo and Cobalt. Even among large pickups, there's lots of variance, with the Titan having well over a hundred deaths per million vehicle years and the Toyota Tundra having just 23 (the Dodge Ram 1500 that Mr. Miner inquired about has a slightly riskier rate of 40). All the data is from 2005-2008 models in the 2006-2009 calendar years.

Pickups lag, mainly because they've lacked stability control

According to the IIHS, much of the difference between SUVs and pickups (and probably, the difference between the Armada and the Titan) comes down to one important safety feature: electronic stability control (ESC), which can smartly prevent regain control during a skid, or prevent one from happening altogether—and preventing a deadly rollover.

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