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Large Pickups Excel in Side Crashes But Fall Short in Rear Passenger Protection

Large pickup truck crash test
Front Side Impact Crash Test. Picture By IIHS.

Key Points

  • 2023 Ram 1500, F-150, Tundra, and Silverado excel in side crashes but lack in rear seat safety.
  • Only the Tundra scores marginally; other pickups rate poorly for rear passenger protection.
  • Safety tech advancements in these pickups favor front over rear, raising back seat risks.

The pickup truck has long been the symbol of rugged capability, a vehicle designed to handle the rough and tumble of life’s more demanding paths. Yet, despite their sturdy exteriors and tough personas, recent tests have highlighted a concerning contrast in the safety of these steel steeds, particularly in the realm of rear passenger protection.

The 2023 editions of the Ram 1500 crew cab, Ford F-150 crew cab, Toyota Tundra crew cab, and Chevrolet Silverado 1500 crew cab have shown commendable resilience in the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety’s (IIHS) latest side crash evaluations. The first three nabbed ‘good’ ratings, with the Silverado at a respectable ‘acceptable’—a testament to their ability to shield occupants from side-impact dangers.

The updated side test, now part of the IIHS’s TOP SAFETY PICK criteria, is designed to reflect more severe high-speed collisions. Here, the trucks generally did well, though the Silverado showed room for improvement, particularly regarding potential chest injuries for rear passengers.

Large pickup truck side crash test rating
G=Good; A=Acceptable; M=Marginal; P=Poor: Photo By IIHS

But the plot thickens once we shift our gaze to the back seat. In the more demanding moderate overlap front crash test—recently revamped to shine a spotlight on the safety of rear passengers—the results were less reassuring. Only the Tundra eked out a ‘marginal’ score, with the F-150, Ram 1500, and Silverado lagging behind with ‘poor’ ratings. This is a pressing concern, highlighting that the safety of the front seat has leapfrogged that of the rear, largely thanks to advancements in airbags and seat belts that have not been as widespread in the back.

G=Good; A=Acceptable; M=Marginal; P=Poor: Photo By IIHS

IIHS President David Harkey points out that while large pickups, like other vehicle classes, excel in the side test, their performance in the moderate overlap scenario is lacking. The latter now includes a dummy in the second row, sized to represent a small woman or a 12-year-old child, assessing the types of injuries most commonly sustained by back seat passengers.

To achieve a ‘good’ rating, a vehicle must ensure the dummy’s head, neck, chest, and thighs are at low risk of injury. It must avoid “submarining” beneath the lap belt and ensure proper shoulder belt positioning. Unfortunately, all four trucks stumbled here, with issues in belt forces and ‘submarining,’ putting hypothetical rear occupants at risk, particularly in the F-150 and Ram 1500, where potential chest and head/neck injuries were a concern.

On a positive note, the integrity of the front seat occupant space remained strong across the board. But this juxtaposition of front seat fortitude against rear seat vulnerability paints a complex picture for consumers who may not realize that the safest place for children—the back seat—still holds risks for adult occupants in these large pickups.

For the automotive enthusiast and everyday driver alike, these results serve as a crucial reminder that even the most robust-looking trucks have their safety Achilles’ heels. As the automotive world continues to evolve, so too must the emphasis on the safety of all passengers, front and back. Manufacturers are urged to heed these findings, ensuring that advancements in safety technology are as inclusive for rear occupants as they have become for those up front.


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