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Poor Headlights, Lack of Auto Emergency Braking System Prevent Small Pickups from Earning Top IIHS Safety Rating

Poor Headlights, Lack of Auto Emergency Braking System Prevent Small Pickups from Earning Top IIHS Safety Rating

By Joseph Dobrian, September 06, 2017
Although four out of eight small pickup trucks evaluated by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) can boast “Good” ratings for occupant protection in all five of the Institute’s crashworthiness evaluations, automakers clearly have work to do. According to the IIHS, the lack of advanced safety technology such as automatic emergency braking combined with poor-rated headlights mean these pickups do not qualify for either of the Institute's safety awards.

For the recent tests, IIHS engineers evaluated two body styles of each pickup, in this case from the 2017 model year: crew cab and extended cab. To assess crashworthiness, the IIHS rates vehicles Good, Acceptable, Marginal, or Poor, based on performance in five tests: moderate overlap front, small overlap front, side, roof strength, and head restraints. The IIHS also rates the performance of front crash-prevention systems and headlights.

For 2017, models that earn Good ratings in the Institute’s five crashworthiness evaluations and an Advanced or Superior rating for front crash prevention with standard or optional autobrake qualify for a “Top Safety Pick” award. Additionally, those with headlights that earn a Good or Acceptable rating qualify for a “Top Safety Pick+” award. The four pickups that merit Good ratings in this year’s evaluation don’t qualify for either of the IIHS’s top safety awards because their headlights are rated Poor and they lack an automatic emergency braking system.

“This group of small pickups performed better in the small overlap front test than many of their larger pickup cousins,” said David Zuby, the Institute’s executive vice president and chief research officer. “The exception was the Nissan Frontier, which hasn’t had a structural redesign since the 2005 model year.”

The Toyota Tacoma crew cab, which Toyota calls the Double Cab, is the top performer in the small overlap front crash test, the most challenging of the IIHS crashworthiness evaluations. Added in 2012, the small overlap test replicates what happens when a vehicle runs off the road and hits a tree or pole, or clips another vehicle that has crossed the center line. The Tacoma crew cab earns a Good rating, with Good individual ratings for structure, restraints and kinematics, and all injury measures but the lower leg and foot, in which it’s rated Acceptable. The Tacoma crew cab is the only small pickup to earn a good rating for structure in the small overlap test. Results for the extended cab, which Toyota calls the Access Cab, were similar, but it earns only an Acceptable rating for structure due to some additional occupant compartment intrusion.

The Chevrolet Colorado Crew Cab and its GMC counterpart, the Canyon Crew Cab, also earn Good ratings for occupant protection in a small overlap front crash, although they get only an Acceptable rating for structure in the small overlap front test.

Both the Nissan Frontier King Cab and the Frontier Crew Cab earn Marginal ratings. The Frontiers are the oldest designs in this group of small pickups, with no structural changes since the 2005 model year. However, beginning with 2017 models built after February, Nissan lengthened the side curtain air bags on the Frontiers to improve protection for people in small
overlap front crashes. The IIHS finds that the side curtain airbag protects the dummy’s head from contact with the vehicle’s side structure and outside objects in both the crew- and extended-cab tests, but the Frontier’s structure allows considerable intrusion into the occupant compartment, which compromises driver survival space. In a real-world crash of this type, the driver would be exposed to the threat of serious injuries to the lower legs and left foot.

Both Frontiers earn Good ratings in the moderate overlap front, side, and roof strength test, and Acceptable ratings for head restraints. The extended-cab versions of the Colorado and Canyon earn Good ratings in the moderate overlap front, roof strength, and head restraint evaluations, and Acceptable ratings in the side test.

All Small Pickups Receive Poor Headlight Ratings
While the IIHS does state that some small pickups provide good overall crash protection, every pickup truck included in this study rates Poor for headlights.

“Headlights are basic but vital safety equipment,” Zuby remonstrated. “Drivers shouldn’t have to give up the ability to see the road at night when they choose a small pickup.”

Of the eight trucks evaluated, only the Chevrolet Colorado and GMC Canyon pickups are available with front crash prevention, in the form of an optional forward-collision warning system. However, Toyota says the 2018 Tacoma will have a standard autobrake system with pedestrian detection, and upgraded headlights that include high-beam assist, which automatically switches between high beams and low beams depending on the presence of other vehicles.

For complete small pickup crash test ratings, visit:
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