Monday, November 28, 2011

Hybrids safer than conventional cars, research shows

Hybrids safer than conventional cars, research shows

Yuriko Nakao / Reuters

Prius hybrid vehicles are shown near a Toyota plant in central Japan.

If the fuel-saving benefits weren’t enough, now there’s another good reason for buying a hybrid vehicle instead of a conventional gas-only model.

Research by an affiliate of the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety shows hybrid vehicles are safer than their conventional counterparts when it comes to shielding their occupants from injuries in crashes.

On average, the odds of being injured in a crash are 25 percent lower for people in hybrids than people traveling in comparable non-hybrid vehicles, the research found.

“Weight is a big factor,” said Matt Moore, vice president of the Highway Loss Data Institute 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.”

Hybrid cars are heavier than cars that only use an internal combustion engine because they have large, heavy batteries and two engines. They save on fuel by storing the energy produced when braking and using it to power the vehicle at low speeds.

Moore points to other possible factors for the better safety record for hybrid vehicles, such as how, when and by whom hybrids are driven. Researchers said they included controls to account for these factors.

The study estimated the odds that a crash would result in injuries if people were riding in a hybrid vs. the conventional version of the same vehicle. The analysis used data from more than 25 hybrid-conventional vehicle pairs from the 2003-11 model years.

The study’s findings are good news for green-minded drivers who are also looking for safety in their cars. But it’s worth noting that hybrid vehicles still pose a risk to pedestrians.

At low speeds in densely built areas, hybrid cars and pure electric vehicles rely on electric propulsion. That makes them much quieter than gas-powered cars, posing a risk to pedestrians.

A 2009 report by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration found a higher rate of pedestrian crashes for hybrids than for conventional gas-powered cars, especially when the vehicles were turning.

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