As the culture war in North America continues to rage on, the humble, blue collar… and enormous, military-esque full size pickup truck finds itself in the crosshairs of controversy.
The debate began last month when a Globe and Mail op-ed asserted that pickup trucks were a “plague on Canadian streets” — citing their size, the danger they pose to other motorists, and their reputation for pollution.
That’s a pretty inflammatory claim, considering pickup truck sales now comprise roughly one-quarter of all light vehicle sales in Canada — and that’s even with a significant dip in sales seen in the first quarter of 2021.
While some op-eds fired back at the Globe piece with the predictable “urban elites don’t understand freedom!” conservative rhetoric, the original op-ed skewering pickups was bolstered with alarming reports from outlets such as The National Post, which reported that, “In Canada, driving a truck or SUV makes motorists as much as 224 per cent more likely to kill someone in a collision,” – citing a study conducted in Montreal.
It’s alarming stuff. And it’s a single statistic which begs the question, “Is driving a pickup truck an inherently unethical decision?”
Of course, there isn’t really a binary answer to that.
However, we can examine a few factors, including collision and fatality statistics, environmental impact and the necessity for the utility which pickup trucks provide in an attempt to come to a conclusion.
“Do Pickup Trucks Kill More People?”
Not only do pick-ups not kill as many motorists as passenger cars in total, they also don’t kill as many proportionally to registered vehicles.
In fact, pickup trucks are involved in proportionally less accidents altogether.
In The National Post article, the way the “224 per cent more likely to cause a fatality” statistic is presented makes it seem as if pickup truck and SUV drivers are 224 per cent more likely to kill someone. Period.
But what the statistic actually highlights is that a pickup truck or SUV striking a passenger car in a collision is 224 per cent (which is two and a quarter times if you want to present the statistic in a less alarming way) more likely to cause a fatality.
And that is true.
In Ontario, according to a 2019 Ontario Road Safety Annual Report, passenger cars have a fatality rate of about 1.16 per cent, whereas pickup trucks have a fatality rate 2.21 per cent in all collisions. So yes, you’re about twice as likely to kill somebody in a passenger car if you hit them in a pickup truck.
However, this in no way suggests that SUV and pickup truck drivers cause 224 per cent more fatalities.
According to that same Ontario Road Safety Annual Report, passenger cars accounted for 49,087 collisions and 571 fatalities in 2019.
Pickup trucks, by contrast, were responsible for 5,682 collisions and 126 fatalities.
Which means of the almost 65,000 collisions which occured on Ontario roads in 2019, pickup trucks were only involved in less than nine per cent of them — whereas passenger cars were involved in a whopping 75 per cent of collisions and accounted for 57 per cent of all fatalities.
Pickup trucks at any given time account for between roughly 20 to 25 per cent of all cars sold. According to StatsCan, pickups accounted for just over 20 per cent of new vehicle registrations in 2019. However, they were only responsible for 13 per cent of all collision fatalities in Ontario in the same year.
So yes, while a pickup truck is more likely to kill in the event of a crash, the likelihood they will be involved in a fatal crash, or any kind of crash for that matter, is far less than a passenger car.
This fact may be down to the harsh weather Ontarians often face.
According to the RCMP, “In 2017, nearly 30 per cent of collisions reported to the National Collision Database happened on wet, snowy or icy roads. One third happened in January, February, November and December.”
The RCMP also cites, “Canadian insurance providers report a 49 per cent increase in collision-related claims in December and January.”
Driving in the winter is dangerous. Pickup trucks and SUVs provide the weight, 4×4 capabilities and torque required for greater bad weather driving confidence and ability.
This trend of passenger vehicles being altogether more dangerous continues outside of Ontario as well.
In its report on collision fatality statistics, the IIHS found that any collision in a passenger car, outside of rollovers, was more deadly than an SUV or pickup truck — including in single vehicle collisions, where the passenger car was not struck by a larger vehicle (or any vehicle for that matter).
“Cars had the highest number of deaths per registered vehicle both in single-vehicle crashes (16 per million) and in multiple-vehicle crashes (32 per million). SUVs had the lowest number of deaths per registered vehicle both in single-vehicle crashes (9 per million) and in multiple-vehicle crashes (15 per million),” according to the IIHS report.
“Do Pickup Trucks Pollute More?”
Broadly speaking, yes.
Pickup trucks have greater tailpipe emissions than most other vehicles on the road. This is especially true of larger V8 and diesel engine-powered trucks. However, even the modest 2.7-litre EcoBoost Ford F-150 produces around 100 tons of Co2 over the course of its lifespan — according to a study from the National Observer, which cites statistics from fueleconomy.gov.
It is worth noting, however, that pickup trucks are not alone in reaching those levels of consumption or pollution. Many European sports cars and SUVs, for example, will consume more gasoline and produce more carbon dioxide throughout their lifespan than the most popular Ford F-150 sold today.
Of course, nobody would dream of suggesting a ban on BMWs, Range Rovers and Porsches because they simply aren’t as easy of a target as Ford pickup trucks… because people in the city think they’re posh.
Granted, there are many, many more F-150s on the road than Porsche 911s or even Range Rovers. And compared to many passenger cars, and certainly compared to electric cars, which produce little to no tailpipe emissions (depending on the fuel which is used to create the electricity which charges them), the pickup truck comes off very, very poorly.
However, tailpipe emissions are only a portion of the story when it comes to a vehicle’s entire carbon footprint.
Manufacturing counts for a lot, and what pickup trucks have going for them are their mass, localized production.
While the production of electric cars are getting greener all the time as the process becomes localized and more frequent, by best guesses, it still takes about one to two years for an electric car to offset the carbon dioxide equivalent of operating a gasoline vehicle.
In 2015, a report from the Union of Concerned Scientists found that taking into account electricity sources for charging, an electric vehicle ends up reducing greenhouse gas emissions by about 50 per cent compared with a similar size gas-powered car — which is saying quite a lot when you consider how low their tailpipe emissions are.
This is all to say that production is a massive part in calculating the overall carbon footprint of a vehicle.
It’s also to say that buying vehicles less frequently may be the best way to offset your footprint.
Studies find that the average pickup owner holds on to their vehicle for about seven to eight years.
The noble and virtuous electric car may not have the same lasting power with consumers.
Car and Driver, for example, found that their long long-term Tesla Model 3 had lost seven per cent of its capacity over 24,000 miles. At that rate, Tesla would have to replace the battery under warranty — which means another huge carbon footprint to produce the lithium-ion battery.
Is that to say every Tesla Model 3 is as bad for the environment as one Ford F-150? No.
It’s only to say that buying a new car (or having to replace the lithium-ion battery in your car) every three or four years is not more green than the average pickup owner who holds on to their truck for nearly a decade.
Furthermore, how transparent a company is in meeting their climate commitment as a whole is also worth considering when it comes to pointing fingers at big polluters.
Let’s compare Tesla with GM and Ford — who both sell more full-size pickup trucks than any other product.
According to Forbes, who obtained a recent study conducted by Arabesque (not publicly available) Tesla is “among the 15 per cent of the world’s largest companies, across 14 indices, that do not disclose their overall greenhouse-gas emissions.”
Tesla infamously shows its carbon emissions in graphs and does not disclose exact numbers or offer any concrete details on Scope 1 or Scope 2 emissions, or the percentage of operations which their graphs cover. This may be because of moves such as CEO Elon Musk endorsing bitcoin earlier in the year — a currency with annual carbon emissions which are amongst the very worst of any product ever conceived by human beings.
Let’s be very clear about one thing: if you trade in bitcoin and rail against pickup trucks, you are in a very fragile glass house, throwing very heavy stones.
By contrast, GM and Ford were identified as far more transparent when it came to both the emissions they currently create in producing their vehicles, as well as their targets for reducing those emissions moving forward.
GM and Ford use science-based targets and plan to be carbon-neutral in products and operations by 2040 and 2050 respectively. Additionally, Ford offers specific targets for the emissions related to its vehicles.
And as Ford and GM continue to meet their goals, the pickup truck will very soon be far friendlier to the environment.
For example, this year Ford introduced the all-electric F-150 Lightning, which for over 70 per cent of the population in the US, should produce less than half the global warming emissions of the gasoline model. GM will soon follow with the arrival of the all-electric Hummer.
“Do Canadians Really Need a Pickup Truck?”
Many of them do.
Some have gone so far as to suggest outlawing the sale of pickup trucks outside of use for work.
But since 22.1 per cent of employed Canadians work in skilled-trades occupations, I’m not sure banning pick up trucks outside of the trades would necessarily have the desired effect.
Furthermore, the need for a pickup truck can extend beyond just working in the trades.
That’s roughly one in five Canadians who might not get their roads plowed, or be able to have groceries, consumer goods or construction materials easily transported to their homes. Both those figures — Canadians living in rural areas, as well as Canadians working in skilled trades, are right around the number of new pickup trucks sold in this country every year.
So those images of the lifestyle pickup truck driver — the hockey mom, the faux blue-collar account executive, or the lift-kit, coal rolling Monster-energy drink loving, Limp Bizkit fan — they’re most likely not the vast majority of people buying pickup trucks in Canada.
I say this as a leftist urbanite who makes a living by typing their thoughts into a computer while drinking $6 coffee; I think it’s an incredibly bourgeois and cake-eater point of view to demonize pickup truck ownership outright.
For people who live outside city centres and who make their living with their hands, the pickup truck is a lifeline and as far as the data is concerned, there’s no reason to think their popularity in this country is down to simply wanting to buy into a lifestyle alone.
A free piece of consumer advice if you are actually someone who wants to buy a pickup simply for the lifestyle and not for the utility; don’t.
It’s more dangerous for your fellow drivers if you collide with them, it’s more dangerous for you in the event of a rollover and you’re not exactly doing the planet any favours unless you go for a forthcoming electric model.
But even if you’re a very selfish person and don’t care about any of the above, there are plenty of good reasons not to buy a full size pickup.
For starters, they all have the ride quality of a shopping cart. They also all have absolutely dreadful interiors (unless you shell out big bucks for the upgrade package). They’re epicly annoying to navigate through city centres and parking garages. Which is all to say nothing of the fact that filling them up at the gas pumps is an actual exercise in masochism.
If you don’t truly need a pickup, you really shouldn’t buy one.
But for those who do need them, I think we should stop presenting them as inherently irresponsible or unethical.