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With the rising popularity of pickup trucks and their gradual transition from work-only to multi-purpose family vehicle, we figured it would be worth looking at the safest 2021 full-size pickup trucks.

And, after a little research, we’re surprised by the results.

To rank the 2021 trucks, we looked at both Insurance Institute for Highway Safety crash-test ratings as well as National Highway Traffic and Safety Administration safety ratings to get a general idea of where they stand. There was only one truck to get a Top Safety Pick award from IIHS, and that same truck is the only one to nab an overall 5-star rating from NHTSA.

That truck? The 2021 Ram 1500.

To be fair, at the time of writing this article, the 2021 Ford F-150, which is all-new for this model year, has yet to be tested by either IIHS or NHTSA, but it did get a 5-star rating in 2020 even if it didn’t make a Top Safety Pick from IIHS. So, we’re going to slot it in where we think it’ll end up based on the previous year’s results.

Thus, if we were going to rank the safest 2021 full-size pickup trucks, it would look like this (safest to least safe):

  1. Ram 1500 (NHTSA 5-Stars or 4 Stars depending on cab configuration)
  2. Ford F-150 (2021 not rated, 2020 NHTSA 5-Stars or 4 Stars depending on cab configuration)
  3. Nissan Titan (NHTSA 4-Stars)
  4. Chevrolet Silverado 1500 (NHTSA 4-Stars)
  5. GMC Sierra 1500 (NHTSA 4-Stars)
  6. Toyota Tundra (NHTSA 4-Stars)

What is a Top Safety Pick?

IIHS has been putting out their Top Safety Pick awards since 2006, and each year, the criteria gets more stringent, with the hope that automakers trying to get this coveted award will make their vehicles better. For the most part, it’s worked.

In 2021 to make the list, vehicles had to get a Good rating in all of the crash tests, a Superior or Advanced rating for front-crash prevention and a Good or Acceptable rating for headlights.

The downfall for most pickup trucks: headlights.

The Ford F-150 initially made the Top Safety Pick award lists from 2015, when IIHS started including pickup trucks in the award, until 2017. When IIHS added the headlight requirement in 2018, it dropped off the list. The Ram 1500 joined the list in 2019 with its redesign, and redesigned headlights were a big part of the reason.

The reason the Ram 1500 doesn’t get a Top Safety Pick + award is also because of headlights. To get the “+” designation, you have to get Good headlight ratings for all trims – Ram 1500 only gets it for Laramie Longhorn, Limited and TRX trims.

Screen grab taken from the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety showing the crash-test ratings for all the 2021 full-size pickup trucks.

Marginal & Poor = failing

We aren’t surprised the 2021 Toyota Tundra ends up on the bottom of the list because it was last redesigned in 2014 – before IIHS got a lot stricter with its testing. The Tundra is the only truck to get a Marginal rating on the small overlap, front driver-side crash test, and it’s the only one to get a Poor rating for the small overlap, front passenger-side crash test. It takes another hit on roof strength as the only truck to get an Acceptable rating in that category. We are hoping all this improves with the next-gen 2022 Tundra, which should be out by the end of 2021.

The biggest disappointments on this list, however, are the GM duo, since both the Chevy Silverado and GMC Sierra were next-gen trucks in 2019 – the same as the Ram 1500. So, GM either missed the memo on the importance of headlights, or it just didn’t care. GMC and Chevrolet also have work to do in the way of protecting the front passenger before they’ll be able to make the list. We’re not sure that will happen until the next complete redesign, so don’t expect an increase here for the 2022 refresh.

The bottom line on the 2021 safest full-size pickup trucks

While safety may not be top of mind when you think of pickup trucks, it should be – especially since the full-size truck is more often becoming a family vehicle.

We know “the heart wants what the heart wants” (and feel like we say that way too much), but if loyal owners keep buying the same trucks even though they have glaring flaws, there is no incentive for the automaker to improve.

So, by all means be brand loyal if you have to, but before you buy your new truck, look at the ratings above as well as the photos below, and ask yourself if you’d feel good about putting your spouse, child or grandchild in that front passenger seat. If the answer is no, that should mean something.

Editor’s note: For whatever reason, IIHS calls the Honda Ridgeline a “Large Truck” and lumps it in with this set of full-size trucks. We don’t think it qualifies as full-size, and thus we’ve edited Ridgeline’s rankings out of the image on this page and disinclude it from this story.

Images on this page courtesy of Insurance Institute for Highway Safety.

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Jill Ciminillo

Jill Ciminillo is a syndicated automotive writer. Jill also manages the “Drive, She Said” blog for ChicagoNow and posts reviews to DriveChicago. She is the president emeritus of the Midwest Automotive Media Association and has the distinction of being the first female president for that organization. She also serves as a judge for the Automotive Heritage Foundation Journalism Awards. Previously, Jill has been the automotive editor for the Sinclair Broadcast Group, the Chicago Sun-Times News Group and Pioneer Press Newspapers.

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