Report says hybrids are safer for occupants than traditional cars

People who invest in hybrid cars are significantly less likely to be injured in an accident because their heavy batteries make the vehicles safer than traditional cars, according to an insurance industry report released Thursday.

The average hybrid is 10 percent heavier than a traditional car of the same size, and the extra heft reduces the odds of being hurt in a crash by 25 percent, the report says.

“Saving at the pump no longer means you have to skimp on crash protection,” said Matt Moore, vice president of the Highway Loss Data Institute and author of the report.

The first generations of hybrids generally were smaller, lighter vehicles than those produced more recently. With manufacturers increasingly converting a portion of some traditionally powered car models to hybrids, the hybrid versions are heavier.

For example, a Honda Accord takes on about 480 pounds when transformed into a hybrid version. A Toyota Highlander gains 330 pounds.

Hybrid car sales peaked in 2009 at just shy of 3 percent
of the market, according to
the automotive Web site Edmunds.com. Their share dropped to 2.4 percent last year and continued to decline in the first eight months of this year.

The institute, an affiliate of the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, is considered one of the most reliable sources of such data because it draws on detailed insurance claim filings rather than police accident reports.

The institute gathered data on 25 models that are produced both as traditional and hybrid vehicles, all 2003-2011 models, and that had been in at least one accident that resulted in an injury claim. The Toyota Prius and the Honda Insight were excluded from the study because they are sold only as hybrids.

In a separate analysis, the institute found that hybrids are 20 percent more likely to hit a pedestrian than noisier, conventional models.

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

Congress this year gave the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration three years to come up with sound devices that will alert pedestrians to the approach of hybrids and electric car models.

Ashley Halsey reports on national and local transportation.
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