The Chevrolet Volt and Nissan Leaf are the first plug-in electric vehicles to win the highest safety rating award from the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS).
The ratings are the result of the first-ever U.S. crash tests of plug-in electric vehicles, and show that automakers are using the same safety engineering in these cars as they do in gasoline-powered vehicles, the institute said.
Both the Volt and Leaf have standard electronic stability control and earned the top rating for front, side, rear and rollover crash protection, qualifying them as winners of the institute's Top Safety Pick designation. With the addition of these cars, 80 vehicles have won the rating award so far for 2011, including seven hybrid models. The new winners bring General Motors' winning tally to 12 models and Nissan's to three for this year.
"The way an electric or hybrid model earns top crash test ratings is the same way any other car does," Joe Nolan, the IIHS chief administrative officer, said in a statement. "Its structure must manage crash damage so the occupant compartment stays intact and the safety belts and airbags keep people from hitting hard surfaces in and out of the vehicle."
The Volt and Leaf are classified as small cars, with their overall size in line with peers in their class, but heavy battery packs put their weight closer to midsize and larger cars. Larger, heavier vehicles generally do better at protecting occupants in serious crashes than lighter ones.
"The Leaf and Volt's extra mass gives them a safety advantage over other small cars," Nolan said in a statement. "These electric models are a win-win for fuel economy and safety."
Vehicle safety influences car insurance rates because insurers consider the average cost of claims for models as one of the factors when determining premiums.