In some parts of the USA, pick-up trucks with raised bodies are referred to as ‘jacked-up.’ The problem is that while large pick-up trucks are already dangerous vehicles (see below), raised pick-ups can be particularly deadly.
So why are pick-up trucks dangerous in the first place, and why does raising their height make matters worse?
Pick-up trucks, and their passenger equivalent of SUVs, have a raised center of gravity because of their design. Despite automatic stability controls that have been compulsory on new vehicles in the USA since 2012, this makes these two types of vehicle more likely to roll over.
Any rollover puts a vehicle’s occupants at vastly greater risk of injury or death.
Now let’s think about other people — the ones not in the pick-up truck — and the greatly increased dangers caused to them.
Frontal danger to pedestrians and cyclists
For the past two years, the number of pedestrians killed annually on U.S. roads has exceeded six thousand — a catastrophic number, especially as deaths in other categories are coming down. It is widely believed by experts that the main cause of this tragic surge in pedestrian deaths is the increasing number of large pick-ups and SUVs, the tall hoods and grills of which are particularly dangerous when pedestrians or cyclists are hit.
Modern sedans must meet regulations regarding the force they create when pedestrians are hit. For purely political reasons, these regulations do not apply to SUVs and pick-ups… heaven forbid that people’s right to stay alive be made more important that Detroit’s profits!
When the bodywork of a pick-up truck is raised, it becomes ever-more likely to simply go over the top of any smaller vehicle it is in collision with, and in doing so it will crush anyone in that smaller vehicle. It is a particularly deadly type of crash.
Having the wheels projecting out to the side of the vehicle, beyond any wheel-arch bodywork that could enclose to top and sides of the wheel causes a rare but deadly risk…
Tires are made for one reason only, and that is to grip, right?
So now imagine that for any of several reasons a vehicle with protruding tires goes too close to a pedestrian — maybe the pick-up driver has swerved to miss a collision or is simply distracted and the vehicle goes onto the sidewalk.
If a protruding tire as much as brushes against a pedestrian — child, sibling, friend, fiancé, parent, grandparent, whoever — that rotating tire has the potential to grip and the pedestrian may get dragged under the wheel. It’s as simple as that. On the other hand, bodywork that arches over the wheels can help prevent pedestrians from being run over, by pushing them away.
This is one of the two reasons that in countries with more effective road safety than the USA no road vehicle is allowed to have laterally protruding wheels, period!
Additional spray and debris
In addition to the danger to vulnerable road users, wheels that are not over-arched by bodywork designed to reduce spray will throw big quantities of water into the air. Look at the amount of spray coming off both the front and the back wheels in the photo immediately below. All spray reduces visibility, and more spray obviously equates to even less visibility. Thus safety is reduced.
Now, instead of just water on the asphalt, imagine there’s a modestly-sized piece of debris lying there: maybe a large bolt that has come loose from a semi, or perhaps a hard object that has fallen from an insecure load. Any wheel can catapult that object upwards but a wheel-arch will generally stop it going any further, rather than it possibly shattering a driver’s windshield or even a motorcyclist’s face.
Crashes due to road debris are far from rare but having ‘enclosed’ wheels rather than open wheels can reduce this. (Think Nascar versus Indy wheels.)
Extra height affects the vehicle’s lights, too
When pick-up trucks get jacked up, how often do you think the headlights are expertly realigned to compensate for the extra height? Judging by the way that so many jacked-up pick-ups’ headlights dazzle oncoming drivers at night, the answer is: Not very often!
It can be just as bad when you are being followed by a very large or jacked-up pick-up at night. The reflection of those high headlights in your mirrors can be a serious problem.
Other serious vehicle issues
As large-wheel pick-ups are the vehicles most used for off-road driving — whether for work or recreation — we must also mention that when ‘knobbly’ off-road tires are used for driving on a road, safety is reduced and braking distances can be greatly increased due to there being so little “rubber meeting the road,” by comparison with proper road tires. This applies whatever the weather.
Unless brakes are appropriately upgraded when larger wheels are fitted, braking can be badly affected for a second reason. (See previous paragraph.)
Similarly, unless correct replacements are installed when larger-diameter wheels are fitted, the speedometer will thereafter give very inaccurate readings.
What about the 4-wheel drive?
One of the biggest misconceptions regarding SUV’s, pick-up trucks and other vehicles with 4wd is that they have better grip and are safer on winter roads, but that is simply not true.
It is not the type of drive that dictates safety on winter roads but the type of tires. Don’t believe us? Read about it here.