HLDI Study Shows Positive Safety Trend for Hybrid Vehicles

Drivers of hybrid vehicles are 25 percent less likely to be injured in a crash than their counterparts in conventional cars and trucks, according to a study released Thursday by the Highway Loss Data Institute (HLDI).

The study gives a lot of weight for that disparity to … well, weight. Along with some other possible factors—including how, when and by whom hybrids are driven—researchers found the battery packs and other components that make dual-use vehicles 10 percent heavier on average also appeared to make them safer in accidents.

“Weight is a big factor,” Matt Moore, vice president of the nonprofit research organization and an author of the report, said in a statement. “This extra mass gives them an advantage in crashes that their conventional twins don’t have.”

For example, researchers pointed out that a hybrid Honda Accord midsize sedan weighs about 3,600 pounds, as much as 480 pounds more than a regular Accord. And the dual-use version of the Toyota Highlander weighs in at 4,500 pounds, a full 330 more than the conventional midsize SUV.

Findings Could Mean End to Safety/Eco-Friendliness Trade-Offs

Officials at HLDI, an affiliate of the Institute for Highway Safety, say the findings could mean eco-friendly motorists will no longer have to choose between safety and fuel economy, as they say was often the case back when most fuel-efficient vehicles were smaller and lighter—and therefore less crashworthy—than standard cars and trucks.

“Saving at the pump no longer means you have to skimp on crash protection,” Moore said.

The study estimated injury crash odds for more than 25 hybrid-conventional vehicle pairs made by the same auto manufacturer. HLDI spokesman Russ Rader said in an email that the study found the odds of a hybrid driver filing a claim for injuries under his or her car insurance policy was 25 percent lower than for those in their vehicle’s conventional sibling.

Researchers looked at data involving only those hybrid vehicles that had an exact conventional counterpart, such as the Honda Civic and Honda Civic Hybrid, or one that was at least comparable, such as the Lexus GS 450 and Lexus GS 350.

The Toyota Prius and Honda Insight were not included because those vehicles are only made as hybrids, and researchers controlled for factors including calendar year and driver age and gender, according to HLDI.

Injury Disparity May Be Due to Basic Physics

The lesser chance of injury afforded those in hybrids is basic physics, researchers wrote in a bulletin about the study.

“In a collision involving two vehicles that differ in size and weight, 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.

According to HLDI, heavier vehicles are safer even in single-vehicle crashes because they are more likely to bend or otherwise deform objects they hit.

But the Institute points out that, whereas “downsizing” vehicles to improve their fuel efficiency once forced drivers to trade between safety risks and paying more for gas, automakers these days are increasingly boosting fuel economy by designing more efficient engines and adding hybrids to their fleets.

Will the Results Impact Hybrids’ Coverage Costs?

Whether the trend will give owners of hybrids access to more affordable car insurance policies remains to be seen.

The study looked only at first-party coverages, meaning they only pay for the policyholder’s and his or her passengers’ own medical and repair bills, so any reduction would be limited to those coverages. And  insurers typically adjust rates based on their own internal claims data rather than the results of independent studies.

About John Pirro
John Pirro is a licensed fire and casualty insurance agent specializing in various aspects of the auto insurance industry. He worked in the auto body repair industry before taking a reporting position at Online Auto Insurance News.

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