By: John Stewart
The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety today released new side-impact crash-test results for three full-size pickups that it described as “worse than many cars we have evaluated.”
The three newly tested trucks were the 2009 Dodge Ram 1500, 2009 Nissan Titan and 2009 Chevrolet Silverado/GMC Sierra 1500. Though all rated Good in front impacts, they all earned either Poor or Marginal ratings in side-impact tests conducted at 31 mph.
The Dodge Ram with standard side airbags received a Marginal rating. The report said the Ram’s side structure/safety cage earned a Good rating, while the Titan’s earned Acceptable. The Ram has standard head-protecting side curtain airbags, but it lacks torso airbags. Both side curtain and side torso airbags are optional in the Titan.
When tested without their optional side airbags, the Titan and Silverado were given Poor ratings by IIHS. The Titan’s side rating improves to Marginal in models tested with side airbags, while the Silverado’s optional side airbags don’t improve its rating over models without them.
2009 Dodge Ram 1500: Side protection ratings are based on a crash test in which the side of the vehicle is struck by a moving deformable barrier that represents the front of a typical SUV or pickup. The resulting 31mph perpendicular impact is used to measure deformation of the body and performance of the airbag system, if so equipped. In this case, the Ram was rated “marginal” because, while the head was protected with side curtain air bags, the torso could have been impacted.
The Silverado’s ratings also apply to the GMC Sierra 1500, both of which were redesigned for 2007, so the ratings apply to 2007-09 models. The Ram is a new design for the 2009 model year. The Titan was introduced in the 2004 model year, so results apply to 2004-09 models.
In theory, the Ram, Titan and Silverado should have an advantage in side crash tests over
smaller vehicles because of their size and weight, and because occupants' higher seating positions put their heads and shoulders above the impact zone. Generally speaking, occupants of cars should be more vulnerable because their bodies are in line with the fronts of vehicles, especially tall ones, that hit them from the side.
“These large pickups don’t have to work as hard as smaller vehicles to protect their occupants," said IIHS senior vice president David Zuby. "Even with their characteristic advantages, the Ram, Titan and Silverado still miss the mark when it comes to occupant protection in side crashes.”
Most conspicuous in the new test results is the fact that the Chevrolet Silverado/GMC Sierra were considered Poor even when equipped with their optional side curtain airbags.
“It’s disappointing to see that the GM truck didn’t perform better,” Zuby said.
The Silverado and Sierra don't have side airbags that protect the torso; they only get side curtain airbags that protect the head. The report stated that the trucks' optional side curtain airbags are designed to protect occupants’ heads, and these worked well, but occupants’ upper bodies remain unprotected even with the optional side curtain airbags, in part because there was more intrusion into the passenger compartment than with other pickups tested.
2009 Chevrolet Silverado 1500: Even though the optional side curtain air bags did protect the occupants’s head, the amount of side intrusion was judged to be sufficient to warrant a “poor” rating with respect to side impact.
“We think buyers should opt for the side curtain airbags anyway,” Zuby said, adding that they do help reduce injury, but that they're insufficient protection “for a truck with that much side intrusion."
“We are aware of the IIHS tests; we do pay attention to them,” said Janine Fruehan, a safety spokesperson for General Motors. “But the results of one test doesn’t determine overall safety. Our trucks do meet and exceed government tests; the Silverado has a five-star rating in the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration crash testings — that alone confirms that we provide a safe structure for occupants. We think we have great trucks.”
The Silverado is due for a (safety) redesign in the 2010 model year. Fruehan said the latest safety enhancements are in the works for the new Silverado.
The 2009 Dodge Ram, which is equipped with standard front airbags, standard supplemental side curtain airbags and a standard electronic stability system, also received five stars in government frontal crash tests.
Zuby said IIHS tests are conducted differently than NHTSA tests, usually at higher speeds.
“NHTSA tests are similar to ours in that they do provide consumer information to allow buyers to make informed choices,” Zuby said. “Our tests are different because we try to look at accident data and, based on that data, design tests that aren’t being done to address those issues. To get the most complete assessment, look at both tests.”
With regard to the Silverado/Sierra and Nissan Titan, he said IIHS tests show “there are better choices out there.”
The new test results add more models to IIHS’ "Top Safety Pick" list of pickup trucks tested for front, rear and side-impact crash protection. Earning Good ratings in front, side and rear impacts were the Honda Ridgeline, Ford F-150 and Toyota Tundra. All those trucks have standard side airbags with torso and head protection.
2009 Nissan Titan: This shows the amount of damage to the occupant compartment of the Titan. Footage of dummy inside the Titan without airbags showed that the drivers head moved far enough outward so as to approach the window sill. With side curtain bags, the head was better protected.