Lifted Trucks and The Law
Disclaimer: I drive a pickup truck.
I love my pickup truck. In fact, I just got a new one – to replace my other one, which my son now drives. Over the years, I’ve owned and enjoyed driving a lot of different pickup trucks. I love to store all my stuff in the bed, tow my boat around and go places a conventional passenger car can’t go.
I’ve had American-made trucks, and right now I drive a Toyota Tundra. I like the feeling of being up a little higher than I am in a car. In a standard height pickup, I think you get a better overall view of the traffic and road conditions around you.
We’ve all seen these types of lifted trucks on the roads of Southwest Florida. In a lot of cases, the pickup trucks have been altered from the ‘factory height’ to be so high up in the air, it appears as if it would roll right over a small passenger car. Truck owners who customize their pickups this way do it for appearance’s sake because they like the way their truck stands out from the crowd. But raising a truck dramatically alters the way it rides and handles, and not in a positive way. (Although owners will rarely admit that).
Does Lifting a Truck Make it Dangerous?
Let’s take a closer look at some of the factors that are altered when you lift your truck.
Rollover Crashes: Adding over-sized tires and a lift kit raises a truck much higher than is normal, resulting in a much higher center of gravity. This can cause an already dangerous vehicle to become even more “top heavy”, increasing the danger of rolling over, even in a low-speed maneuver. Consumer Reports says that SUV’s, pickups and vans have a higher susceptibility to rollover crashes than do standard passenger cars. Lifting a truck even higher dramatically increases your chance for a rollover crash.
Visibility: Yes, riding in a pickup, the way it comes from the factory, does give you a little more visibility of the road and the cars around you. But driving a lifted truck can actually decrease the driver’s ability to see cars, pedestrians, motorcycles and bicycles that are very close. Imagine a scenario where a lifted truck is driving through a parking lot or other high-traffic area, and a small child or dog darts out from between parked vehicles. Being up so high can really skew a driver’s visual perspective, increasing the risk of a tragic impact.
Rear End Crashes: The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration says almost 1/3 of all traffic crashes are rear end collisions. As you can imagine, these are also some of the most devastating types of crashes when you look at the severity of the resulting injuries. Imagine the risk for even more severe injuries if a standard-sized passenger vehicle gets rear ended by a lifted pickup truck with a front bumper that’s 28 or 30 inches, or even higher, above the ground. Potentially, that bumper could completely clear the rear deck or trunk of the car and make impact with the rear window. It doesn’t take much to realize how much more severe that type of impact can be.
In another crash scenario, a dramatically-raised pickup truck getting rear ended by a standard-sized passenger car. There is a very good likelihood, especially if the driver of the passenger car hits the brakes before impact, of that car going completely under the rear bumper of the truck, hitting the undercarriage and rear axle. This can result in the rear bumper of the truck going through the front windshield of the car that hit it from behind. This can cause extremely serious head and brain injury to the car’s driver, or even decapitation.
Headlights: I’m not sure about you, but I’ve cursed a lot of raised truck drivers when they pull up behind me, both day and night. The raised height of their headlights shines directly into the rear-view mirror of the car in front of them. (This is made twice as bad when the driver of the truck has their high-beam lights on, which happens far too often).
Another hazard is a driver of a standard sized passenger car being blinded by the increase height of a truck’s headlights as it approaches from the oncoming direction. The height of the lights can be directly the same level of the car driver’s head, resulting in a blinding light, especially at night.
Stopping Distance: If someone adds a custom lift kit to their truck, they’ll likely add new, larger-diameter tires, too. Or at least they should, because cruising around in a jacked-up truck with small tires just looks stupid. The problem comes when the owner doesn’t add bigger, more efficient brakes on the truck at the same time. Those monster tires alter the overall weight of the vehicle, along with altering the physics of getting the tires to stop when the brakes are applied. It will take the truck driver a longer distance to come to a stop in a raised truck with oversized tires, which can be another cause of a serious motor vehicle crash.
If you’ve ever seen a radically raised truck on the road and wondered how on earth can that be legal, you’re not alone. In addition to Florida statutes, there are also federal laws in place that limit the maximum height of a vehicle’s front and rear bumpers. With trucks, the overall weight of the vehicle is also considered when determining the height levels. In the case of trucks, (SUV’s are lumped in with the passenger car height restrictions), the front bumper can be no higher than 28 inches high, measuring from the center of the bumper to the ground. In the rear, it’s 30 inches.
I don’t know about you, but I’ve seen countless trucks around Lee County that I’m pretty sure were not in compliance. How can they continue to drive around without getting a citation?
Darned good question.
Statistics Don’t Lie
When it comes to the numbers, there are multiple studies that support the fact that trucks – even those that are not lifted – are more dangerous than our passenger cars.
The American Association of Motor Vehicle Administrators conducted a study and found that light trucks comprise around 1/3 of vehicles on the road today. They also determined that they’re involved in about 50% of all two-vehicle fatality crashes. Their study also found that lifting a truck to even an acceptable legal height almost quadrupled the chances of a rollover crash.
For a full copy of the report, click here.
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