Tesla safety has improved drastically over the years.
In an experiment, a 1959 Chevy didn’t fare well against a model that’s 50 years newer. Today’s vehicles are safer, thanks mainly to advancements in engineering. And one company appears to be leading the pack.
Tesla has consistently received five-star ratings from organizations that perform crash tests,
such as the Insurance Institute for Highway tesla Safety. One reason you’d be safer in a Tesla is that electric cars don’t have an engine, so all the steel and aluminum at the front crumples and absorbs much of the impact, preventing it from being transmitted to the occupants. The lack of an engine isn’t the only reason they’re safe.
It has to do with the overall structure of the vehicle. They’re challenging to roll over because they have a low center of gravity since the heavy battery pack and the electric motors sit low in the vehicle. American road safety regulator, NHTSA, determined that the mid-size SUV, the Model Y, has a rollover risk of about 8%. Tesla says that’s the lowest risk of any SUV ever built. And lower than the chances of the Model X flipping over.
In the unfortunate event that it does overturn, Tesla relies on the strength of its roof to protect the people inside. The Model 3’s roof has been found to resist more than 20,000 pounds of force – nearly six times its weight.
Or, as Tesla points out, it can withstand the weight of about two full-grown African elephants. The part of a car that offers the least amount of protection is the side – since there’s no area designed to crumple, unlike the front and rear ends.
Teslas have been heavily reinforced with ultra-high grade steel, shown in teal blue, to get over this side panel weakness. At the same time, the battery pack also acts as a barrier. If there is a side collision, the Model 3 has a thick curtain airbag that contributes to a high safety rating. A real-world example comes to mind. In Oregon recently, the driver of a Model S crashed into a pole hit two trees and a telephone box. The impact was so severe that hundreds of tiny batteries that work together to power the Tesla were ejected onto the road.
Despite the damage, the driver walked away with only minor injuries.
Teslas have also been engineered to prevent accidents in the first place.
Tesla’s safety feature detects when the vehicle is drifting into another lane and then steers itself back. And the Automatic Emergency Braking (AEB) recognizes obstacles and stops the car on its own. But there are still some kinks to be ironed out. European safety experts Euro NCAP tested the braking system on a Model X. It avoided hitting a dummy resembling a child while traveling at 25 km/h (16 mph).
But not at 30 km/h (19 mph) – though it did reduce the speed before impact. This type of technology is not new. Volvo introduced an auto-braking function over a decade ago. But Teslas differ because of their more advanced sensors, which should technically be better at avoiding collisions. A combination of cameras, radar, and ultrasonic sensors help with navigation. The goal is to eventually have the vehicles drive themselves with no human driver. You might say Level 5 autonomy is the holy grail.
Tesla’s not quite there yet but is moving in that direction. Select customers have been able to beta test its full self-driving software – which works on both city streets and highways without any help from the driver. However, the driver still has to pay attention and step in if the vehicle fails to respond appropriately. So it’s not yet autonomous, and if you ask rivals, that won’t ever happen. The CEO of Waymo, formerly known as Google’s self-driving project, dismissed Elon Musk’s company as a competitor, saying he doesn’t think Tesla will ever be autonomous.
Elon Musk fired back, tweeting: Tesla safety has better AI hardware and software than Waymo. Tesla’s full-self driving software is believed to be propelling its vehicles from Level 2 autonomy to Level 3. The tech is a considerable improvement from Autopilot – which has cruise control but fewer features than FSD and is most often limited to highway use. With any system that isn’t fully autonomous, the driver must remain alert. Not doing so can have fatal consequences.
In 2018, a Model X on Autopilot drove into a concrete barrier in California, killing the Apple engineer who had been playing a game on his iPhone
and failed to take over the steering of the car. Although there have been concerns about the safety of automated Teslas, the company has still received stellar safety ratings with each new model it produces. But five stars is not necessarily unprecedented. The gas-powered Lexus ES 350 and the electric Audi e-Tron scored an overall safety rating of five on the NHTSA scale. What’s most important is the likelihood of someone getting injured or killed.
Tesla once touted the mass-market Model 3 as the safest car ever built.
Regulators took issue with that bold declaration.
In a letter to Tesla, NHTSA accused the company of misleading consumers because they said it was “inappropriate” to rank vehicles of different weights. Tesla shot back, saying its statement was based on NHTSA’s calculations. And the scuffle hasn’t ended there.
In January, the government agency asked Tesla to recall 158,000 Model S and Model Xs over failing touchscreens, which could increase the risk of crashes. As if the writing of this article, Tesla hasn’t publicly made a statement. So, depending on who you ask, whether Teslas are the safest vehicles out there is up for debate. But it appears they’re leading the pack. As the technology continues to improve, the hope is that safety will accelerate.