• IIHS study examines insurance claims by vehicle year, make and model.
  • Results are standardized to account for outside factors.
  • Each model is compared to average all vehicles.
  • The 2010-2011 Ford Fusion Hybrid outshines midsize sedan competition.

The safety of a particular vehicle can be determined in a number of ways. Crash tests, for example, are important for ratings by the federal government and the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS), which rates most new vehicles. Included safety equipment for a given model can be helpful, too. The most effective systems (seat belts, anti-lock brakes, traction control) often become mandated on new cars.

A third way to determine safety is to examine real-world accidents. Along with its research arm, the Highway Loss Data Institute (HLDI), IIHS recently completed a study that compared insurance claims on a range of vehicle models involved in accidents. It compared claims for collision, property damage, personal injury, medical payments and bodily injury. The personal injury claims are of particular interest, as they cover injuries to the insured and his or her passengers, regardless of fault.

In this category, only one model in the 2009-2011 mid-size sedan category stood out as exceptional. The 2010-2011 Ford Fusion Hybrid was rated at 75 on a scale where 100 is average for all vehicles. This means that the Fusion Hybrid performed 25 percent better than average for personal injury among all vehicles.

IIHS does not consider the severity of injuries or the details of the claims. The Institute considers only the cost of the claims. But the data are standardized for factors like the number of a particular model on the road or the age of drivers. This lets IIHS remove some of the bias that these outside factors introduce, allowing it to hone in on the safety of the vehicle itself.

The Fusion Hybrid is the only mid-size sedan with an outstanding rating in the personal injury category. Other popular vehicles with good crash test results are rated closer to average in this study. The Fusion is both highly rated in crash tests and, according to these results, appears to perform well in real-world circumstances.

A heavier, hybrid powertrain might be partially responsible for the good ratings, according to IIHS. A representative of the Institute says that other research shows hybrids have lower injury odds than the same models with conventional powertrains. That certainly appears to be the case with the Fusion. The conventionally powered version is rated worse than average in the personal injury category. Matt Moore, vice president at HLDI, confirmed this assessment.

"The Fusion Hybrid is several hundred pounds heavier than the non-hybrid Fusion. It is one of the heaviest vehicles in the mid-size four-door class," Moore said. "Simply put, that extra mass is protective--it helps to protect the occupants from injury."

The results of this study, broken down by vehicle size and class, are available online. Used car shoppers can compare real-world results to ratings for crash tests performed by IIHS and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA).

What it means to you: Crash tests are carefully controlled experiments that reveal how vehicles perform in very specific collisions. Real crashes are far more chaotic. IIHS ranks the relative safety of vehicles based on real-world results.

author photo

Nick Palermo is an automotive writer and lifelong car nut. He follows new and late-model used vehicles for AutoTrader.com, writes about vintage cars for Hemmings Classic Wheels and blogs on all things automotive at LivingVroom. He lives in Atlanta with his wife and twins.

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