The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety calls the side crash protection offered by the Chevrolet Silverado 1500, GMC Sierra 1500, Dodge Ram 1500, and Nissan Titan "wimpy, at best."
"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 IIHS senior vice president David Zuby. "They perform worse than many cars we've evaluated." (The IIHS considers the Silverado and the Sierra together as one entity because they share platforms.)
The Dodge Ram and Nissan Titan with side airbags fared slightly better than the other two models, receiving an IIHS rating of "Marginal" - the second lowest rating on a scale ranging from "Good" to "Poor." With or without airbags, the Silverado and Sierra both earned overall ratings of "Poor."
Trucks have an advantage over cars because of their size, weight, and most importantly, their height. Car occupants are more vulnerable because vehicles striking them from the side are usually level with their bodies. Because truck cabs are higher off the ground, truck occupants should be safer.
So what gives? The IIHS says the sub-par crash test performances for the Silverado and Sierra stem from the fact that the trucks have poor side structure, and lack side torso airbags. It says the side curtain airbags are designed for protecting occupants' heads, which they do well, but do not offer protection for occupants' bodies. The Institute's testing showed that injuries to the ribs and internal organs were likely for Silverado AND Sierra occupants during a side crash test.
In the Ram and Titan, side structure is better but side airbags are still not good enough. The Ram does not offer torso airbags at all, while the Titan's torso airbags need improvement.
"It's certainly possible to design a large pickup that offers good occupant protection in side crashes," Zuby says. The IIHS gave three other tested full-size trucks their highest rating of "Good": the Honda Ridgeline, the Ford F-150, and the Toyota Tundra. All three of those vehicles have good side structure and airbags with torso and head protection.
IIHS side evaluations are based on performance on a crash test where the vehicle is struck by a barrier moving at 31 mph, where the barrier is equivalent to the front end of a pickup truck or SUV. The ratings doled out measure the injuries recorded on dummies inside the vehicle.