Hybrid Cars Protect Passengers Better, But Cause More Pedestrian Crashes

November 18, 2011

Hybrid cars, heavier than conventional non-hybrid cars of similar models, have a safety edge when protecting their occupants from crash injuries, a new study found. But because hybrids are also quieter, they are more likely to get into crashes with pedestrians.

On average, the odds of being injured in a crash are 25 percent lower for people traveling in hybrids compared to non-hybrid models, according to Virginia-based Highway Loss Data Institute (HLDI), an affiliate of the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety.

The group says weight is a big factor. “Hybrids on average are 10 percent heavier than their standard counterparts. This extra mass gives them an advantage in crashes that their conventional twins don’t have,” said Matt Moore, the group’s vice president and an author of the report.

Heavier Cars Protect Better

Although hybrids share the same footprint and structure as their conventional counterparts, they outweigh them because of the added heft of battery packs and other components used in dual-power systems.

At 3,600 pounds, a hybrid Honda Accord mid-size sedan can weigh as much as 480 pounds more than a conventional Accord. A hybrid Toyota Highlander, a mid-size SUV, weighs 4,500 pounds, compared with about 4,170 pounds for the conventional Highlander.

It’s well known that size and weight influence injury likelihood. In a collision involving two vehicles that differ in size and weight, the people in the smaller, lighter vehicle will be at a disadvantage. The bigger, heavier vehicle will push the smaller, lighter one backward on impact.

The study analyzed over 25 hybrid-conventional vehicle pairs, all 2003-11 models, with at least 1 collision claim and at least 1 related injury claim filed under personal injury protection or medical payment coverage in the 2002-10 period.

Collision coverage pays to repair or replace an at-fault driver’s vehicle after a crash with an object or another vehicle. Personal injury protection (PIP) pays medical expenses for injuries insured drivers and other people in their vehicles sustain in a crash, no matter who is at fault in the collision.

Medical payment, or MedPay, covers treatment costs when insured drivers or their passengers are hurt in crashes when the driver is at fault. PIP coverage is sold in states with no-fault insurance systems, and MedPay coverage is sold in tort states.

Hybrids’ injury odds were 27 percent lower than their standard counterparts for collision claims with a related PIP claim and 25 percent lower than counterparts for collision claims with a related MedPay claim.

But Quiet Hybrids Get Into More Pedestrian Crashes

But the study also shows that hybrids may be as much as 20 percent more likely to be involved in pedestrian crashes with injuries compared to conventional cars.

“When hybrids operate in electric-only mode pedestrians can’t hear them approaching,” says Moore, “so they might step out into the roadway without checking first to see what’s coming.”

Analysts examined how frequently injury claims were filed for 17 hybrids and their non-hybrid counterparts when there was no related collision or property damage.

Studied vehicles included 2002-10 full hybrid models and their standard twins during 2004-2010 years, totaling 25,382 bodily injury liability claims.

More crashes with pedestrians is a problem that’s cropped up as hybrids have become more common, and it’s one the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration is working to address, the study noted.

Earlier this year Congress gave the agency three years to come up with a requirement for equipping hybrids and electric models with sounds to alert unsuspecting pedestrians.

Bodily injury liability coverage insures against medical, hospital, and other expenses for injuries that at-fault drivers inflict on occupants of other vehicles or others on the road.

Topics Auto

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