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Image Source: Tesla Motors
Image Source: Tesla Motors

Is Tesla Motors’ Model S the safest car in the world?  Yes, according to Tesla and scores from the National Highway Traffic Adminstration.  Tesla said Monday that the Model S earned the highest crash test scores of any car ever tested.

“Of all vehicles tested, including every major make and model approved for sale in the United States, the Model S set a new record for the lowest likelihood of injury to occupants,” Tesla said in its statement.

– Peter Valdes-Dapena at CNNMoney

Tesla’s Model S was so robust, it reportedly broke a NHTSA machine testing the vehicle’s roof strength for rollover crashworthiness.  Tesla claims that when the testing lab’s press busted, the Model S roof had already withstood a load of 4 times the vehicle’s weight.

The NHTSA 5-Star safety rating program – through the agency’s New Car Assessment Program (NCAP) – provides consumers with information about the crash protection and rollover performance of new vehicles beyond what is required under Federal law.  The program began in 1978 to measure occupant safety in frontal crashes.  Side impact testing was added in 1997 and rollover testing was added in 2001.

The NCAP frontal test measures occupant protection for an average size male and small-sized adult female in a fixed barrier crash at 35 mph.  The crash rating evaluates injuries to the head, neck, chest, and legs for the driver and front seat passenger.

The NCAP side impact test measures occupant protection for the driver and rear seat passenger with a moving barrier weighing 3,015 pounds impacting the vehicle on its side at 38.5 mph.  The crash rating evaluates injuries to the head, chest, abdomen, and pelvis of the driver and the head and pelvis of the rear seat passenger.

The NCAP side pole crash test measures occupant protection for the driver in an angled crash into a 25-cm diameter pole at the driver’s seat location at 20 mph.  This crash simulates a side impact into a utility pole or tree.  The crash rating evaluates injuries to the occupant’s head, chest, lower spine, abdomen, and pelvis.

Initially, the NCAP rollover crash test measured only the vehicle’s static – or non-moving – roof strength.  Beginning in 2004, the agency also factored dynamic rollover testing into the rollover crash and resistance rating.

In addition to good performance in the static roof strength test, the Tesla Model S also fared particularly well at avoiding rollover in the first place.

The Model S was also substantially better in rollover risk, with the other top vehicles being approximately 50 percent worse.  During testing at an independent facility, the Model S refused to turn over via the normal methods and special means were needed to induce the car to roll.  The reason for such a good outcome is that the batter pack is mounted below the floor pan, providing a very low center of gravity, which simultaneously ensures exceptional handling and safety.

Tesla Press Release

The NCAP tests are just the latest accolades for the vehicle Consumer Reports said might be the best it has ever reviewed.

There, we said it.  The Tesla Model S outscores every other car in our test Ratings.  It does so even though it’s an electric car.  In fact, it does so because it is electric.


So is the Telsa Model S the best car ever?  We wrestled with that question long and hard.  It comes close.  And if your needs are confied to the Tesla’s driving range, it just may be.  But for many people, the very thing that makes cars great is the ability to jump in and drive whereever you want on the map at a moment’s notice.  And on that measure the Tesla has its limitations.  So the Model S may not satisfy every conceivable need, but as we’ve learned through our testing and living with it, the Model S is truly a remarkable car.

– Eric Evarts at Consumer Reports

Tests from the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) have yet to be released.  We’ll have to wait and see if the Model S performs equally as well in the IIHS tests.  Nevertheless,  the Model S NCAP results presents a  major question as to what this means for other car makers.   As Clarence Ditlow, director of the Center for Auto Safety, has noted, “Tesla has thrown down the challenge to the industry as a whole.  We are a new company and we beat everybody.  All the other automakers need to accept Tesla’s challenge and do as well or better as Tesla in NHTSA’s crash test ratings.”

Ditlow also said, “If [car makers] want to engineer a safer vehicle, you can do it.”  It’s time for other automakers to make safety a priority and like Nike says, Just Do It.

Update (8/21/13): Tesla is getting push back from NHTSA on its claims of a greater than 5-Star safety rating.  See here.

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© Copyright 2013 Brett A. Emison

Follow @BrettEmison on Twitter.

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