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Editor's Desk: Safe Travels

Allyson Harwood
Dec 15, 2009
Nothing makes it easier to refocus on something like truck safety than seeing what happens to a vehicle in a crash. Contributor Gary Witzenburg's story discusses what it takes to get a pickup or SUV to pass federal safety regulations. The story includes several rather dramatic photos of rollover tests and head-on collisions.
The most dramatic visual, though, was something that doesn't involve a single pickup or SUV and couldn't run in the magazine. Gary sent us a video of an offset head-on crash test between a 1959 Chevrolet Bel Air and a 2009 Chevrolet Malibu, done in conjunction with the 50th anniversary of the creation of the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety. Even though this crash test doesn't involve trucks, it still illustrates how violent a collision is. There are cameras inside and out of both sedans, and you can see from several angles just what happens to the driver (crash-test dummy) in each car. The biggest shock to me is that, even though most of us think of old cars and trucks as rock-solid tanks, in the crash, the '59 looked as if it had dissolved. The Malibu wasn't in the greatest shape afterward either, but was a lot better off than the Bel Air. What was really telling was the aftermath--had it been an actual crash with live humans instead of test dummies, the driver of the Malibu would've had a knee injury; the Bel Air driver would've been killed instantly. We have the video posted at It's absolutely incredible.
Photo 2/2   |   editors Desk allyson Harwood
Gary's story and the accompanying video highlight how far vehicle safety has come in the last 50 years. Think about where pickup-truck safety devices were in the 1950s and 1960s, and where they are now. There are things you may not even consider as true safety devices, but power steering, for example, has greatly improved the way a driver can react to something up ahead. Remember what it was like to try to turn a corner in a truck without power steering? Imagine trying to quickly get around someone or something in the road, such as someone slamming on his brakes.
Front and rear disc brakes are standard on nearly every pickup and on all SUVs. Antilock brakes are so commonplace we don't even think about them anymore; they're just there. We've seen in our own track testing that braking distances have gone way down. Decades ago, it wouldn't be unusual for a truck to take 200 feet to stop from 60 mph; a couple of years ago, we tested an SUV that stopped from that speed in 112 feet. And when was the last time you drove a vehicle that didn't have airbags? There are even systems on SUVs that will alert you if you're getting too close to an object or another vehicle, and will intervene to reduce the effects of a pending collision. This doesn't even go into all of the R&D done on crumple zones and the design of passenger compartments. Manufacturers have really done their homework; now it's time for us to do what we can.
You know that a pickup, especially a 3/4- or one-ton, takes longer (in distance and in time) to stop than a smaller vehicle does. This means that we have to leave more space between us and the vehicle ahead, in case we need to make a panic stop. Unfortunately, when driving in an urban area--such as Los Angeles, where Truck Trend is based--if you leave space, someone will sneak in. Then you find yourself backing off to allow more room, only to have the same thing happen again. While this is utterly frustrating, when you own a truck, it's part of the deal. If we start tailgating to keep others from cutting us off, that leaves no room to react to whatever may happen ahead.
Another problem, one we're all guilty of, is driving while distracted. This isn't just about whether you should hold your cell-phone while driving (it's illegal in California, but from what I can tell, that hasn't stopped anyone from doing it). If you ask me, phone calls themselves are distracting, wherever the phone is while you're using it. Distractions include fiddling with your iPod when you try to skip past a song you don't like, or trying to reach for your sunglasses because they slid onto the passenger-side floor during a hard turn. They include eating a burger while driving, or--and I have personally seen these--eating cereal out of a bowl, using drumsticks on the steering wheel to perfect a drum solo, reading a newspaper, and applying makeup. I get that rush-hour traffic is bad, but that's ridiculous. We've all been distracted while driving, and it's very easy to get lulled into a false sense of security because of all of the cool safety features that are now part of our everyday lives while on the road. But things can change in an instant, and when something comes up, if you can't react in time, you could be in serious trouble. When it comes to reducing the number of accidents on the road, let alone fatalities, there are only so many things an automaker can do. The rest is up to us.
VIDEO: In celebration of the Insurance Institute for Highway Safetys 50th anniversary, a 1959 Chevrolet Bel Air was crashed into a 2009 Chevrolet Malibu.
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