Congratulations on the purchase of your brand-new pickup truck!
Whether you bought a Sierra, like the one in the photo above, or a Yukon, which the tweeter mistakenly thought he was standing next to, or a Ram or a Silverado or a Jeep Gladiator or any other megatruck or monster SUV, you’re making an announcement to the world. It’s not the announcement you think it is, though. It’s not about your wealth or your toughness or your masculinity. No, you’ve announced, very clearly, that you don’t care if you accidentally kill a stranger. You’re saying: “I’m totally cool with someone else dying because of a decision I made.”
I’m not saying you’re a murderer if you own a gigantic truck. I’m saying you’re a manslaughterer. If you do kill a person, it won’t be because you carefully planned it. It’ll happen totally by accident, and you’ll be horrified. The person you kill, if it happens, won’t be some jerk who wronged you. They won’t deserve it at all. Heck, there’s a solid chance it’ll be a toddler.
Does this make you feel bad? It should!
Your giant car, study after study shows, is remarkably dangerous to pedestrians. The heavier a car, the more likely it is to kill a pedestrian if it strikes them. And trucks and SUVs are getting heavier: New pickups weigh 24 percent more than they did in 2000, according to Consumer Reports, and these days big cars regularly exceed 4,000 pounds. Let’s not even talk about the new generation of electric vehicles, like the Hummer EV, which thanks to its immense batteries weighs more than 9,000 pounds. You ever nail someone with one of those, hoo boy! They’ll need to pry ’em off the road with a crowbar.
Your car is also really tall, and that makes it more dangerous, too. A grille that’s more than 50 inches off the ground—as tall as the roof of my Honda Civic—makes it more likely that a pedestrian will be struck in the head by a collision. Big trucks are also more likely to push a pedestrian under the tires, according to the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, something that increases the likelihood of a fatality. Those big, road-handling tires you love so much? They’ll also do a great job handling some middle schooler’s torso.
But I’m a good driver! you say. That’s great! Unfortunately, the very act of driving a huge truck makes you a worse driver—that is, a less safe one. According to Consumer Reports, pickups and the like perform worse than other cars in emergency handling and braking tests. And trucks are less likely to be sold standard with advanced safety features like automatic braking and pedestrian detection.
Plus, those tall grilles create enormous blind spots, ones so big that when you’re behind the wheel you might not be able to see a pedestrian, a whole-ass Corvette, or half a kindergarten class. And kids are the most vulnerable to that blind spot: Most victims of “frontover” deaths—in which a pedestrian in a front blind spot is struck and killed in a driveway or parking lot—are between the ages of 12 and 23 months. Eighty percent of those deaths since 1990 involved a truck, van, or SUV, according to the advocacy group KidsAndCars.org. Maybe you think that if you do run over a kid, it at least won’t be yours? It probably will be your kid, though. In 70 percent of those fatal frontovers, it’s a parent or close relative behind the wheel.
And if you do collide with that Corvette in your blind spot, well, good luck to that Corvette’s driver. It isn’t just pedestrians who are more likely to be killed if they’re hit by a truck—it’s people in other cars. You feel a lot safer in your 5,000-pound tank, I bet. But everyone around you is in more danger. In fact, your pickup truck is 159 percent more likely than other kinds of cars to kill another driver if you’re in a collision, according to the IIHS. (SUVs, which have been getting smaller over the years, are merely 28 percent more likely to kill people in other cars. Comforting!)
So: You’ve purchased a car that makes it more difficult to avoid a collision, that doesn’t allow you to see what’s right in front of you, and that is vastly more likely to kill anyone it touches. And what are you getting? A vehicle that, if you’re like the vast majority of drivers, is way more car than you actually need. According to the automotive research firm Strategic Vision, only a quarter of truck owners use their trucks’ towing capacity more than once a year. Only about 30 percent of truck owners go off-road more than once a year. And 35 percent of truck owners basically never even put anything in their truck beds!
Hey, I know you’re not alone. Trucks are not only ever-growing—they’re an ever-growing part of the U.S. automobile market. The three bestselling cars in America last year were the F-150, the Ram, and the Silverado. One out of every 6 new vehicles sold in America is a full- or midsize truck. Meanwhile, sales of plain old sedans are falling off a cliff. And surprise, surprise, our roads are getting more and more dangerous: U.S. traffic deaths are skyrocketing. How long until your new truck adds to the total?
And I know you have to drive a lot. Vast swaths of America have been designed for driving, and driving long distances. Until that changes, you’re going to need to be behind the wheel a lot. So why not consider spending that time behind the wheel of, say, a midsize SUV? Look, it’s still way bigger than most people need, and still dangerous, but I’m willing to allow it as a somewhat lighter, smaller, and less deadly middle ground in the size wars. You’d still be putting others at risk, as we all do when we drive, but at least you’d have made a gesture toward demonstrating you care about whether you kill someone else or not. And hey, side benefit: Most midsize SUVs don’t cost $50,000, like a Sierra does. (But also: Have you tried a sedan? Or an e-bike???)
Look, I get that some people are contractors, or farmers, or boat-haulers—folks in flannel and work boots, as tough as the kinds of dudes always pictured in ads for gigantic pickups. Great. If that’s you, get the giant pickup, I guess. (Although you could always buy a van, which has better sightlines, can carry more than most pickups, and is cheaper.)
But the rest of you, the people who live in the suburbs, who don’t tow or go off-roading or haul around plywood? The drivers who just love the feeling of being way up off the ground, of having a front end that intimidates other cars, of being big? Just remember this. You’ve made a choice, and that choice tells your community that you are absolutely, totally, 100 percent comfortable with killing someone. How will you feel the day you actually do?