Hybrid models have the advantage of fuel economy over their gas-only siblings, but it appears that batteries and electric motors make them safer as well. The Highway Loss Data Institute studied 25 2003 to 2011 vehicles that featured both conventional and hybrid powertrains (example: Honda Civic and Honda Civic Hybrid). The Toyota Prius and Honda Insight were not included in the study since neither vehicle has a conventionally-powered counterpart.

The data shows that occupants are 27 percent less likely to be injured if they're in the hybrid version of the vehicle. There are several reasons why the hybrid is safer, but the biggest factor is weight. Heavier cars are safer than lighter vehicles, since the added mass means that the heavier vehicle will transfer force to the lighter vehicle. That's good for occupants and insurance companies, as the hybrids need 25 percent less personal injury protection than their conventional counterparts.

But while hybrids have proven to be safer than their non-hybrid counterparts, the story isn't as good for pedestrian crashes. HDLI finds that hybrid vehicles are 20 percent more likely to be involved in pedestrian crashes with injuries. The study claims that pedestrians might get involved in more accidents with hybrids because they can't hear the cars when they're in electric mode. We'd add that low rolling resistance tires often contribute to longer braking distances, and the heavier hybrids are also slower and less maneuverable than their non-hybrid counterparts.

Hit the jump to read over the details of the study.
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ARLINGTON, VA - Hybrids have a safety edge over their conventional twins when it comes to shielding their occupants from injuries in crashes, new research by the Highway Loss Data Institute (HLDI), an affiliate of the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, shows. On average, the odds of being injured in a crash are 25 percent lower for people in hybrids than people traveling in nonhybrid models.

"Weight is a big factor," says Matt Moore, HLDI vice president and an author of the report. "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." He notes that other factors, such as how, when, and by whom hybrids are driven, also may contribute. Researchers included controls to reduce the impact these differences may have had on the results.

The new finding is more good news for green-minded drivers who don't want to trade safety for fuel economy. Not so long ago, car buyers had to choose between the two because fuel-efficient cars tended to be smaller and lighter. Now, consumers have more options than ever when it comes to picking an environmentally friendly - and crashworthy - vehicle.

"Saving at the pump no longer means you have to skimp on crash protection," Moore says.

In the study, HLDI estimated the odds that a crash would result in injuries if people were riding in a hybrid versus the conventional version of the same vehicle. The analysis included more than 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 2002-10.
Estimated injury odds under collision
& personal injury protection coverage
Estimated injury odds under collision and personal injury protection coverage
Estimated injury odds under collision
& medical payment coverage
Estimated injury odds under collision and medical payment coverage

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, or 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 their twins for collision claims with a related MedPay claim.

Crash physics: 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. This means less force on people in the heavier vehicle and more on the people in the lighter one. Greater force means greater risk, so people in the smaller, lighter vehicle are more likely to be injured. Even in single-vehicle crashes, heavier vehicles have an advantage because they are more likely to move, bend, or deform objects they hit.

Even with advances in occupant protection, larger vehicles still are safer choices than smaller ones. That's why downsizing vehicles to improve fuel efficiency has traditionally resulted in safety trade-offs. The trend among automakers nowadays is to boost fuel economy by designing more efficient internal combustion engines and by adding hybrids to their fleets.

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

The Toyota Prius and Honda Insight were excluded from the study because they are only sold as hybrids. The analysis controlled for calendar year, rated driver age and gender, marital status, vehicle density (number of registered vehicles per square mile), garaging state, vehicle series, and vehicle age.

Hybrids and pedestrians: A separate analysis by HLDI shows that hybrids may be as much as 20 percent more likely to be involved in pedestrian crashes with injuries than their conventional twins.

Analysts examined how frequently injury claims were filed for 17 hybrids and their nonhybrid 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 calendar years, totaling 25,382 bodily injury liability claims and 2.9 million years of exposure.

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.

Claim frequencies were defined as claims per 1,000 insured vehicle years (an insured vehicle year is 1 vehicle insured for 1 year or 2 for 6 months each, etc.). The analysis controlled for calendar year, rated driver age, rated driver gender, marital status, risk, registered vehicle density, garaging state, vehicle series, and vehicle age.

"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."

It's 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. 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.

Moore points out that HLDI can't definitively tell from the claims data that a crash involved a pedestrian. Likewise, some pedestrian crashes may have been unintentionally excluded. For example, a crash in which a person was struck and injured and the vehicle also was damaged would have been omitted because a collision claim would have been filed for the damaged vehicle. However, a sample of the claims studied suggests that these are mostly pedestrian injury claims.


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  • 61 Comments
      Walt
      • 3 Years Ago
      From the article - "There are several reasons why the hybrid is safer, but the biggest factor is weight. Heavier cars are safer than lighter vehicles, since the added mass means that the heavier vehicle will transfer force to the lighter vehicle." Well there you have it. The laws of physics win in the end. So the logical conclusion is that it's time for everyone to jump back into your big honk'en 6000 pound made in Detroit SUV!!!
      airchompers
      • 3 Years Ago
      This sounds like such a poorly done study. How about adjusting for vehicle use, researchers? If hybrids are hitting more pedestrians isn't it likely that hybrids are more likely to be operated in a city where crashes involve less velocity and there's not as many large vehicles like 1/4 and 1/2 ton trucks and body-on-frame SUVs? I bet hybrids aren't significantly safer than their non-hybrid counterparts when you account for use and safety equipment.
        • 3 Years Ago
        @airchompers
        [blocked]
      TangoR34
      • 3 Years Ago
      If you want reduction in casualty in traffic accidents: 1) Get the drivers to an advanced driving school 2) Educate pedestrians to observe the road better, use the crossing and get off their damn phones whenever they cross the road.
        clquake
        • 3 Years Ago
        @TangoR34
        Whatever happened to people's sense of self preservation? I see people jogging in the busy street despite a 5 foot wide sidewalk.
      twinturboG8GT
      • 3 Years Ago
      Actually, you are safest in a Sports Car... and a Chevrolet Camaroc coupe at that! The Chevy Camaro coupe is the first vehicle EVER to earn a perfect score in National Highway Traffic Safety Administration's safety testing since the federal testing procedures were revised for 2011. http://wot.motortrend.com/overachiever-2012-chevrolet-camaro-aces-crash-tests-136037.html
      LUSTSTANG S-197
      • 3 Years Ago
      The fact that they are involved in more crashes involving pedestrians is quite telling of how and where they are typically driven. There is no arguing that heavier cars are generally safer, but this bit gives me the impression that they are more prevalent in urban areas. It should come as no surprise that they came to the conclusions they did because your chances of being injured in an accident going 25 mph tooling around in a city are significantly lower than being involved in a wreck while going 55 plus mph driving around in a less densely populated area. With that said, I think it is safe to say that these findings are somewhat flawed.
        JohnBoydStrother
        • 3 Years Ago
        @LUSTSTANG S-197
        I drive a hybrid, it is around the gas pumps that people can't hear you as you drive to or away from the pumps. I had at one time thought to install a cow bell on the front. People just don't look where they are walking. What is flawed, is people want to hear an auto, not look for it. I get 29 mpg in mine, it is well worth the price I paid. Thats twice the MPG a gas only auto gets. I think your thinking is flawed, I bet you don't drive a hybrid. Do you?
          LUSTSTANG S-197
          • 3 Years Ago
          @JohnBoydStrother
          The fact that people can't hear them is another factor, but I stand by what I said earlier. You get 29 mpg in your hybrid and you are bragging about it? I have seen gas only cars get over 40 mpg. My 2006 Mustang GT averages about 20 mpg, so to answer your question, no I do not drive a hybrid, and glad I don't, With all that said, it's funny you should call my thinking "flawed".
        LUSTSTANG S-197
        • 3 Years Ago
        @LUSTSTANG S-197
        Also, one must consider who typically drives hybrids. In my area, the preferred hybrid is the Prius, and most of the people I see driving them are elderly people. From my perspective, that is some to consider as well, given what I know about elderly drivers in general.
      Cruising
      • 3 Years Ago
      Hybrid drivers may be safer in the event of a crash but they do not drive safe at all. Maybe it is just me but I've found Prius drivers never maintain the speed limit, they seem to always travel a good 10-15 mph over. Maybe they feel entitled to drive over the speed limit because they are in a hybrid?
        sgmarsten
        • 3 Years Ago
        @Cruising
        There is a comment above by someone who says they can't go above 50. Lots of misinformation out there.
      George
      • 3 Years Ago
      Lots of misinformation here.... I have a 2007 Camry Hybrid. It's my wife's car actually, she drives it back and forth to work so it has less then 15,000 miles on the odometer. Mileage is between 35 and 40 MPG. It is very quick, I'll match it with many of the gas only cars of similar size. Acceleration is smooth and constant, right up to 100 MPH. Braking does not necessarily require your stomping on the brake pedal from time to time. It has a "brake" drive mode which acts much like a stanard car shifting down to a lower gear. When it is brake mode, it is producing power to charge the batteries constantly. It works wonderfully here in the mountains of Oregon. Many of the posters here have little experience behind the wheel of a hybrid. Acceleration is quite acceptably quick. cornering and handling is magnificent. I have owned, by my own recent count, 54 automobiles in my life. Fords, Buicks, Chevies, Javelins, pickups, vans and yes, Harley motorcycles. All around, The Camry Hybrid is as capable of most of them and more reliable than almost all of them. Insurance costs are minimal and it's paid for.
        Nancy
        • 3 Years Ago
        @George
        Our Highlander Hybrid is a peppy car also, and gets about 25 mpg. Are considering a Camry Hybrid as a next vehicle.
        LUSTSTANG S-197
        • 3 Years Ago
        @George
        All that torque courtesy of the electric motor makes them quick. What most are getting at is that not many who shop hybrids are looking for something that goes fast, just that it's practical, and economical. I would guess the percentage of those suffering serious injuries in a crash involving something like a Corvette, or Porsche is much higher than those in one involving a Camry for instance.
      Davey Hiltz
      • 1 Month Ago

      I suppose there are some benefits to being so light as a car. I like big and tough cars that can haul my dirt bikes, but for my wife she owns a Prius. It kind of makes me glad that she's more safe than I am. My dad always did the same as well, he would give the safer/better car to my mom while he drove the other one. 

      http://billwaterslaw.com/tallahassee-personal-injury 

      svntsvn
      • 3 Years Ago
      Weight.. o h .. thats why i am going to live thru the crash I caused in my Hybrid! And when the fire guy gets there, dont forget to remind him the car is a acid/electrocution waiting to happen. Besides the Uber sports cars, the re-born American pony cars and some Luxury branded/ sport Euro cars, most vehicles on the road today suck. How un inspired can a Camry, Accord, Altima be? How 'bout a Civic, Corolla or Focus, or maybe Cruz? Stop it world. Just stop it. Give me my V8. Give me rear wheel drive and get the hell out of my way. Screw hybrids.. Give me muscle v8's or get me a killer electric slot car all grown up so i stil can smoke the tires, rip my neck off with torque all the while smiling. Hybrids are a stop gap that need to go away. It's either gas or electric people.. not both.
        • 3 Years Ago
        @svntsvn
        [blocked]
          LUSTSTANG S-197
          • 3 Years Ago
          In my experience, having such a car does get me some attention. Does it alone help me "get lucky", no, and it shouldn't, but it certainly is more of an icebreaker than any affordable hybrid on the road today can, which is never a bad thing if you ask me. Sorry to get off topic, but I just could not resist. LOL
      eyalny
      • 3 Years Ago
      Hybrids are slow this is why they are safe. it takes longer distance to stop heavy cars so Hybrids are dangerous to everyone around them.
        over9000
        • 3 Years Ago
        @eyalny
        wow you are ignorant, you think that people drive their cars at top speeds?
        airchompers
        • 3 Years Ago
        @eyalny
        "Hybrids are slow this is why they are safe." Hybrids range in speed from 911 GT3-speed to compact-car-with-an-automatic-transmission speeds and there isn't a strong correlation between speed and saftey. Sportbikes aren't safe and they're fast, for instance. M3's used to be really safe cars back when the only people who bought them were really serious people. The largest determinant of cars' safety is the driver. "it takes longer distance to stop heavy cars" Not always. And hybrids usually stop pretty quickly for their classes. "Hybrids are dangerous to everyone around them." By your logic that slow, heavy vehicles are dangerous, is every car that's slower or heavier than a hybrid more dangerous? If so, that's a substantial amount of cars and trucks. If you want to be safe, then drive safe! It's not that hard people. I personally know a person who totaled 3 brand new volvos (all with less than 15,000 miles). And I know a person who's had the same F150 for the past 25 years and hasn't even been close to an at-fault collision. Accordingly, I think we need to consider who buys hybrids (usually people with weak analytical skills or the tech obsessed) and admit they they're dangerous behind any wheel.
          • 3 Years Ago
          @airchompers
          [blocked]
          syntheticlubeguy
          • 3 Years Ago
          @airchompers
          This is actually for Nick: I am not a knuckledragger! Now, where did I leave my bananas??
      sudo_do
      • 3 Years Ago
      I think hybrid cars are safer in a crash because the drivers are usually already dead on the inside.
      Joseph
      • 3 Years Ago
      How about because they are generally traveling at a SLOWER speed?
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