Pickup’s pitfalls

An increase in the number of large, American-style pickup trucks on Australian roads is a boon for dealerships but a worrying trend for some road safety experts.

Barbegello Motors sales manager Liam Price says consumers are flocking to larger vehicles in droves, a trend which led the company to recently open a RAM-specific dealership.

“These are a standard family car in the US, when it comes to Australia it’s now a luxury, a new thing on the block,” he says.

“We’re finding that there’s a lot of people that are purchasing these vehicles, selling up their homes, and deciding that it’s time to travel Australia.”

US-style pickup trucks are increasing in popularity in Australia, worrying some road safety experts. Photo: Dylan Storer.

In 2022, sales of RAM trucks were up almost 53 per cent from the previous year with more than 6,000 vehicles sold, while another pickup truck model, the Ford Ranger, was Australia’s second most-sold car in 2022.

“For pickups, there is huge demand. I’m definitely seeing an increase,” says John Hughes Ford salesperson Justin Sachs.

“A lot of people use them just for city driving, they don’t even go off-road in them ever.”

The prevalence of these vehicles is a worry for some road safety experts.

Monash University mobility design researcher Julian O’Shea says there can be safety implications with driving a heavy vehicle.

“If vehicles are heavier, they’re more likely to be dangerous,” he says. 

“I actually think there’s a bit of an arms race going on where people want bigger cars so they don’t get hit by bigger cars.”

“They’re being bought as commercial vehicles but being used as personal vehicles.

“They might claim them as if they were tradespeople but they’re taking kids to school in them, that is where it is very different to other vehicles.” 

The Ford Ranger was Australia’s second most-sold car in 2022. Photo: Dylan Storer.

WA Centre for road safety director Professor Teresa Senserrick says although drivers may feel safer behind the wheel of a larger vehicle, that isn’t the reality.

“People tend to favour the larger vehicle because they believe they will be more protected in a crash,” she says.

“That can be true if they’re in a crash with a smaller vehicle but also, the higher the vehicle is raised, the less stable it is and it’s much more likely to be involved in a rollover.”

Professor Senserrick says the design of larger vehicles can make them more unsafe but speed is also a factor when it comes to road safety. 

“The main thing drivers need to be aware of is because they have a much heavier vehicle, they need to leave themselves more time to stop; don’t be travelling at the same speed as you might in a smaller sedan for example,” she says.

“Drivers of those heavy vehicles should be looking to leave a three-second gap with the car they’re following at all times.”