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Monday, February 23, 2009

Large Pickups Earn Poor Marks in Crash Tests

Safety Institute Says Three Models Vulnerable to Side Crashes

Tests conducted by the insurance industry say that three large pickup trucks that serve as workhorses for construction crews, farmers and small business owners are not offering good protection in side crashes.

In recently-released side crash tests results, the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) gave poor marks to the 2009 versions of the Chevrolet Silverado 1500, Dodge Ram 1500 and Nissan Titan.

Despite being equipped with standard side air bags, the Ram earned the second-lowest score of marginal. When tested without optional side air bags, the Titan and Silverado earned the lowest mark of poor.

According to the IIHS, when the two trucks were tested with the optional safety equipment, the Titan improved to marginal while the Silverado continued to receive a poor rating. The Silverado's test results also applied to its twin vehicle, the GMC Sierra 1500.

"The size, weight, and height of these large pickups should help them ace the side tests just like the other large pickups we've tested. Not these three," said David Zuby, IIHS vice president. "They perform worse than many cars we've evaluated."

Zuby said occupants of passenger cars are usually more at risk in a side crash because their bodies are lined up with the fronts of vehicles. But even with the higher seating positions, he said the trucks still missed the mark.

IIHS said the Silverado's low ratings were due to a combination of a poor side structure and a lack of side torso air bags. The institute noted that the optional side curtain air bags worked well in protecting motorists' heads, but a person's upper body would still be unprotected even with the optional side curtain air bags.

GM pays attention to the IIHS tests, but spokeswoman Carolyn Markey said "it's also important to understand the results of a single test do not determine whether a vehicle is safe or not." She said the Silverado and Sierra earned top marks in the government's front and side-impact tests.

Chrysler spokesman Nick Cappa said the Ram was equipped with both standard front and side curtain air bags coupled with anti-rollover electronic stability control. He said the Detroit automaker's designers review third-party test programs "as part of our effort to continuously improve the overall performance of our vehicles."

Nissan spokeswoman Jeannine Ginivan reported that the automaker engineers "all of our products to provide a high level of occupant safety in a wide range of real-world crashes, including side-impact collisions."

In the institute's side test, a barrier moving at 31 miles per hour strikes a vehicle’s side. The barrier imitates the front end of a pickup truck or sport utility vehicle.

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