Are Hybrids Safer in Crashes?

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Are hybrids like the Honda Insight safer than gasoline cars?

Are hybrids like the Honda Insight safer than gasoline cars? (honda)

Since we’re just a week removed from the mass hysteria exhibited by the press over a General Motors Chevrolet Volt catching fire three weeks after it was crash tested by the National Highway Transportation Safety Administration (NHTSA), one might think electric vehicles and hybrids aren’t safe.

The NHTSA took the incident as a credible reason to begin an analysis of the safety of electric vehicles, and that investigation should continue until early next year. The federal government agency will be examining if the batteries in hybrids and electric vehicles pose significant risks.

Of course, the Chevrolet Volt is a bit of an oddity, since it isn’t a hybrid, nor is it just an electric car. The Volt offers a compromise between different worlds, since it features the ability to plug-in and be operated entirely on battery power, and it can also use gasoline via a standard internal combustion engine.

We said at the time that we didn’t believe the Volt fire was indicative of any safety concerns for drivers, and we’re not convinced hybrids are somehow lacking in safety, either. The Toyota Prius, for example, is now in its third generation, so it isn’t as if there isn’t plenty of data available to check hybrid safety.

And a newly released report from the Highway Loss Data Institute (HLDI), which is part of the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS), has found that hybrids are 25 percent safer for their occupants than standard cars.  The analysis used data on 25 hybrid-conventional vehicle pairs (such as the Ford Escape, which is offered in both traditional and hybrid forms) from 2003-2011.

But it isn’t some sort of new tech or safety equipment that makes hybrids safer. Rather, it’s the weight of their batteries – which make the typical hybrid 10 percent heavier – that give them the edge in collisions.

“This extra mass gives them an advantage in crashes that their conventional twins don’t have,” Matt Moore, HLDI vice president and one of the authors of the report said.

We’re guessing this will do little to spur hybrid or electric vehicle sales, but we can’t argue that we’d ever mind having more safety when we’re on the road. Will this give hybrid drivers another reason to be smug?

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