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Study Finds Extra Weight of Hybrids Makes Them Safer

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author photo by Nick Chambers December 2011

It's a fact of physics that heavier cars fare better in accidents, and up until recently it was also a fact that to get a more fuel efficient car you had to get a lighter car-which meant accepting the trade-off of safety for miles per gallon. But with the increasing number of cars powered at least partially by electricity-such as hybrids-that trade-off is reversing due to the added weight of heavy batteries and electric components compared to their non-hybrid counterparts.

In a study of 25 hybrid/conventional counterpart pairs by the Highway Loss Data Institute (HLDI), a subset of the well-known Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, the added weight of the hybrids appears to have reduced the amount of injury to both the cars and their occupants by at least 25 percent compared to the conventional version of the same car.

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

The study also found that other factors-such as the average driving behaviors of hybrid drivers-may play a smaller role in the hybrids faring better in crashes. Even so, the largest single contributor to the added safety is the extra weight according to the study's results.

While hybrids may be safer to their occupants, another related analysis by the HLDI suggests that they may be more dangerous to pedestrians-although the numbers are less concrete.

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

This issue of pedestrian safety around extremely quiet cars has become an increasingly important issue. Congress has even broached the topic at this point, requiring the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration to come up with standardized sounds that automakers will have to include on them sometime in the next three years.

This image is a stock photo and is not an exact representation of any vehicle offered for sale. Advertised vehicles of this model may have styling, trim levels, colors and optional equipment that differ from the stock photo.
Study Finds Extra Weight of Hybrids Makes Them Safer - Autotrader