Hybrids Safer for Passengers, More Deadly to Pedestrians

Ford Escape
A hybrid version of a passenger car is safer than a conventional gas-powered one for occupants, according to the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety.

That’s because a hybrid model typically weights more, says the Institute. For instance, a Toyota Highlander Hybrid weighs about 4,500 pounds compared to 4,170 pounds for the gas-powered Highlander. The extra mass gives the weightier vehicle an advantage in a crash because it will push a smaller, lighter car backward on impact, according to IIHS. That means less crash force is inflicted upon the occupants of the heavier vehicle, but more on the lighter one. On average, hybrids weigh 10% more than their conventional gasoline counterparts.

IIHS discovered the correlation by examining nearly a decade’s worth of personal injury protection and medical payment claims from insurance companies. The study included 25 hybrid/conventional vehicle pairings and controlled for calendar year, driver’s age, gender, marital status, vehicle density (number of registered vehicles per square mile), location, vehicle series and vehicle age. The Toyota Prius and Honda Insight were not included in the study because they don’t have conventional gasoline counterparts.

What the study found is hybrid owners are 25% less likely to be injured in a crash than people traveling in an identical model but with a conventional gasoline engine. Despite the controls, IIHS admits that a part of the lowered risk has to do with how, when and by whom hybrids are driven. Regardless of advancements with vehicle occupant safety such as dual-stage airbags and side impact protections, the heavier model is usually safer, says IIHS.

While the advancement is good for occupants, the same can’t be said for pedestrians. Hybrids are nearly 20% more likely to injure pedestrians compared to regular models due to the quiet nature of hybrids at low speeds.

Comments 

Sad to say, this is a relative risk versus the more useful absolute risk per vehicle mile. Sad to say, it is too easy to interpret either "xx%" as an absolute ratio and not the much smaller percentage relative to the gas-only versions.

Although the relative rates of identical hybrid and non-hybrid models has a use, this methodology also increased the relative population of SUV hybrids in the study because the sedan Prius and Insights were excluded. We know from other studies that SUVs and pickups have a higher rate per vehicle mile compared to sedans. This is why absolute rates are the 'gold standard' normally used by the NHTSA when reporting the annual fatality and pedestrian fatalities for the USA fleet. Then there is the elephant in the room.

The same 'extra weight' claimed to make hybrids safer for occupants is just as likely to increase the external risk to pedestrians if nothing else from longer stopping distances.

Bob Wilson

Although the relative rates of identical hybrid and non-hybrid models has a use, this methodology also increased the relative population of SUV hybrids in the study because the sedan Prius and Insights were excluded. We know from other studies that SUVs and pickups have a higher rate per vehicle mile compared to sedans. This is why absolute rates are the 'gold standard' normally used by the NHTSA when reporting the annual fatality and pedestrian fatalities for the USA fleet. Then there is the elephant in the room.

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