Arlington, Virginia – The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) has reported that the Toyota Tacoma was the only one of five 2008 model-year small pickup trucks to earn the highest ratings of “good” for occupant protection in recent side crash tests. The Dodge Dakota, Ford Ranger and Nissan Frontier rated “marginal”, and the Chevrolet Colorado rated “poor” in the side test, which simulates a side impact from an SUV or another pickup.

“More people may be looking at small pickups because of rising gas prices,” said IIHS president Adrian Lund. “Unfortunately, they won’t find many that afford state-of-the-art crash protection. Most earn dismal ratings for protecting people in side crashes, and all but the Tacoma and Frontier lack electronic stability control, which is a key feature in preventing crashes. Until they improve, most small pickups aren’t good choices for people looking for safe transportation.”

Performance in side tests is important because side impacts are the second most common type of fatal crash, killing nearly 9,000 occupants in 2006 in the U.S. The Tacoma’s side airbags did a good job of reducing forces on the driver and passenger dummies in tests, and the vehicle’s structure held up reasonably well, preventing major intrusion into the occupant compartment. The Tacoma was the only pickup in the group tested with side airbags, which are optional in 2008. When side airbags are optional, the IIHS’ policy is to test a vehicle without the option. An auto manufacturer may request a second test with the airbags if the automaker reimburses the IIHS for the vehicle’s cost. Chrysler, Nissan and GM did not request second tests, while the Ford Ranger is unavailable with side airbags. The Tacoma was tested only with its optional side airbags because they are standard in 2009 models currently being shipped to dealers. A federal side impact standard that will essentially require side airbags goes into effect for model-year 2015.

The Tacoma is also rated “good” for frontal crash protection, but its seat/head restraints earn the second-lowest rating of marginal for protection against whiplash in rear-end crashes.

The IIHS reported that small pickup trucks have the highest driver death rates of any vehicles on the road, including minicars. In 2006, small pickups experienced 116 driver deaths per million registered vehicles one to three years old. This compares with 106 for minicars, 99 for small cars and 42 for small SUVs. Part of the reason is that small pickup trucks are more likely than any other passenger vehicles to be involved in single-vehicle crashes, especially rollovers.

The IIHS found that the worst performer was the Chevrolet Colorado, also sold as the GMC Canyon; the driver dummy’s head was hit by the top of the moving barrier during the impact, and the truck’s side structure allowed more intrusion into the occupant compartment than the other pickups. New frontal offset crash tests were conducted for the Colorado and Dakota; while the Dakota earned a “good” rating, the Colorado was rated “acceptable”; in the test, the driver dummy’s left foot was trapped under the brake pedal, requiring the pedal to be cut off to free the foot, although injury measures for the head, neck and chest were low.

All of the pickups tested were crew cabs with rear bench seats except for the Ranger, which was equipped with two side-facing jump seats too small for anyone but very small adults or children. While this pickup’s side rating of “marginal” applied only to front-seat occupants, the IIHS does not recommend riding in jump seats; a study conducted by the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia found that children riding in the small back seats of trucks like the Ranger are about four times as likely to be injured in crashes as those in the back seats of other vehicles.

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