Critics argue they are because many utes can't match a sedan when it comes to features like side airbags.
The Australian Automobile Association has taken up the fight to pressure vehicle makers to lift their game.
The powerful AAA wants state and federal governments to ensure their workers drive vehicles that have a minimum four-star safety rating.
The Tasmanian Government now has a four-star standard for its buying policy and is leading the way nationally.
The Australian New Car Assessment Program (ANCAP) last week released its latest safety ratings for utes. Only one of the four tested — the Holden Commodore — rated four stars.
Nissan's Navara and Mazda's BT50 managed a three-star rating (the Nissan was tested in Europe) and the Indian-made Mahindra Pik-Up only scored two stars.
Utes tested from January 1 this year will not score a five-star rating unless they come with electronic stability control as standard equipment.
ANCAP chair Lauchlan McIntosh said the performance of the Holden ute was a sign that manufacturers could design and build models with better occupant protection.
“We are seeing more and more four and five-star vehicles on the Australian market nowadays, and we would expect that a utility vehicle should earn a five-star rating in the near future,” he said.
However, more work needed to be done.
“Many utes are lacking in basic occupant protection, which is an occupational health and safety concern for drivers of these vehicles. Unfortunately these vehicles are also often bought for family use.”
Ford's Ranger ute is based on the Mazda BT50 and is expected to have similar crashworthiness.
The frontal offset crash by ANCAP left the passenger compartment severely deformed, with the steering column, dashboard components and park brake lever all potential sources of injury.
After a poor result from Euro NCAP, Nissan upgraded the airbag performance of the Navara ute and is now fitting new triggering software to utes sold in this country.
The Mahindra Pik-Up, which only rated two stars, had minimal safety features and, despite the dual-cab configuration that was popular with families, did not include top tether anchorages for child restraints, McIntosh said.
“Under Australian regulations these are optional on this style of vehicle, which can be classified as commercial,” he said.
“Mahindra has advised ANCAP it will be providing driver and passenger airbags in its 2008 models and the anchorages will be a standard design feature from next year.