Fuel Economy and Safety
For decades, automakers improved vehicle fuel economy by reducing vehicle weight. Since smaller generally meant reduced crash worthiness, one of the drawbacks of choosing fuel economy was increased risk of injury in a crash. With the recent rise of hybrids, however, this is no longer an automatic tradeoff.
The Highway Loss Data Institute (HLDI), an affiliate of the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, has found that passengers in hybrids actually fare better than passengers in the same gas-only models. In fact, 27 percent fewer injuries were reported in hybrids than the same nonhybrid vehicle. This held true for fatalities as well, with 25 percent fewer fatalities in hybrids.
The difference in injury odds is attributed in large part to the greater weight of hybrid models. Hybrids are, on average, 10 percent heavier than their standard counterparts due to the weight of battery and other equipment required in the hybrid. Weight and mass have long been known to be major factors in injury risk and this seems to hold true where all other factors are the same.
The HLDI compared the number of medical claims filed in collisions in 25 different cars where both standard and hybrid models were available. For example, injury claim statistics for the Honda Civic standard were compared to injury claims filed for occupants of Honda Civic Hybrids. (Toyota Prius and Honda Insight were not tested since neither has a conventional counterpart.) All hybrids performed better than their standard counterparts regardless of model.
“Going green” on the road may no longer mean trading economy for safety. While smaller cars, even hybrids, will never survive crashes as well as large cars, hybrid consumers can consider safety issues with new positive data.
Status Report, Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, Vol. 46., No. 10, Nov. 17, 2011