hybrid car safety

When it comes to safety testing, the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) is the loudest voice in the automotive industry.  Founded in 1959 by the three largest insurance agencies of its time, today the IIHS is an independent, nonprofit organization that seeks to reduce the damage—both to property and to life—that occurs as a result of automobile collisions. Almost every car sold in North America undergoes crash testing at the hands of the IIHS, and afterwards, the institute scores each vehicle across a number of categories.  While the IIHS attempts to predict how well a car will fare in an accident, its data interpretation arm—the Highway Loss Data Institute (HLDI)—looks at data from past crash reports and analyzes how well a car actually fared when involved in a crash. Recently, AutoTrader reported on the findings of an IIHS/HLDI study, which suggested that the passengers of a hybrid vehicle might be better protected from injuries in an accident than the passengers of a non-hybrid.

When comparing the cost of insurance claims, the IIHS says that the 2010-2011 Ford Fusion Hybrid was a stand out in the mid-size sedan segment.  Further, the IIHS called the Fusion Hybrid “exceptional,” and noted that in terms of personal injuries, it tends to performs 25% better in an accident on average than all other vehicles on the road. Though the institute was not able to get their hands on information regarding the specific injuries suffered in each accident, the relatively low cost of claims for Fusion Hybrids suggest that the injuries suffered by their passengers were not as serious as injuries suffered by passengers of other vehicles.

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The IIHS noted that in addition to being the only mid-size sedan to earn an “outstanding rating in the personal injury category,” the 2010-2011 Fusion Hybrid also performed well in the institute’s crash testing as well. However, other cars that scored similarly to the Fusion Hybrid in crash-testing fared nowhere near as well as it did in the “real world,” according to the data analyzed by the HLDI.  So what accounts for its increased passenger safety?

The IIHS and automotive experts suggest that the combination of the weight of the Fusion’s traditional internal combustion engine and its hybrid powertrain might be responsible.  According to the IIHS, other studies they’ve conducted show that when there’s a hybrid version and a non-hybrid version of the same car, the hybrid’s passengers tend to suffer less injuries in an accident.  They explain this by pointing to the extra mass added to the vehicle by the hybrid engine, which they say serves to better protect passengers from injury.  On a tangentially related note, though it’s generally thought that obese people are more likely to die as a result of a car crash—some have suggested that their increased mass better protects their internal organs during an accident.

Brittany is an environmental and automotive enthusiast based in Las Vegas, Nevada. A graduate of the University of Wisconsin-Madison, she currently moonlights as a law student at UNLV. You can contact her via Twitter @brittlarson10.

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