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Status Report, Vol. 46, No. 10 | November 17, 2011 Subscribe

Hybrids chalk up more injury claims for pedestrians

Hybrids may protect occupants in crashes better than their nonhybrid counterparts, but they also may be as much as 20 percent more likely to be involved in pedestrian crashes with injuries than their conventional twins, a new Highway Loss Data Institute (HLDI) analysis indicates.

Analysts examined how frequently bodily injury liability claims were filed for 17 hybrids and their nonhybrid counterparts when there was no related collision or property damage. Studied vehicles included 2002-10 full hybrid models and their standard twins during 2004-10 calendar years, totaling 25,382 bodily injury liability claims and 2.9 million years of exposure.

Bodily injury liability coverage insures against medical and other expenses for injuries that at-fault drivers inflict on occupants of other vehicles or others on the road.

Claim frequencies were defined as claims per 1,000 insured vehicle years (an insured vehicle year is 1 vehicle insured for 1 year or 2 for 6 months each, etc.). The analysis controlled for calendar year, rated driver age, rated driver gender, marital status, risk, registered vehicle density, garaging state, vehicle series, and vehicle age.

HLDI's finding is in line with 2009 and 2011 studies by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) concluding that hybrids have a higher rate of pedestrian and bicyclist crashes than nonhybrids (see "Hybrids may prompt pedestrians, cyclists to prick up their ears,"  Dec. 22, 2009).

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

It's a problem that's cropped up as hybrids have become more common, and it's one that NHTSA is working to address. Earlier this year Congress gave the agency three years to come up with a requirement for equipping hybrids and electric models with sounds to alert unsuspecting pedestrians (see "Silence isn't golden when it comes to hybrids, electrics," March 30, 2011).

Moore points out that HLDI can't definitively tell from the data that a crash involved a pedestrian. Likewise, some pedestrian crashes may have been unintentionally excluded. For example, a crash in which a person was struck and injured and the vehicle also was damaged would have been omitted because a collision claim would have been filed for the vehicle. However, a sample of the claims suggests that these are mostly pedestrian injuries.

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Hybrids have lower injury odds

Hybrids have a safety edge over their conventional twins, new HLDI research shows. The lower injury odds are in large part due to their bigger weight.

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