Tesla’s Model S car is its most publicly successful and accessible product, but the revolutionary all-electric sedan is also quite controversial. Now the car is stirring up a bit more fuss as it’s being championed by Tesla itself for achieving the “best safety rating of any car ever tested.”
Tesla says the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) has given the S a 5-star safety rating overall and “in every subcategory without exception.” This is impressive, but not unique: Tesla admits about 1% of all cars tested get a full 5-star rating. But safety levels “better than 5 captured in the overall Vehicle Safety Score (VSS) provided to manufacturers, where the Model S achieved a new combined record of 5.4 stars.” So the car really scored 5.4 stars, and Tesla says that’s the highest yet.
We can see Tesla’s point here. But the NHTSA’s own standards have repeatedly been called into question, including by Congress, and Chrysler recently hightlighted this by accusing NHTSA experiments (which said that some of company’s SUVs were unsafe) of being unscientific. The NHTSA is also different than the safety compliance regimes in other nations, particularly Europe. One big area of difficulty is in front-on crashes, where the NHTSA tests the bumper’s ability to protect the car, whereas the EU’s tests check for damage to pedestrians–arguably better.
The upshot is that car safety testing is a bit of a wooly topic and different experts disagree about it. So the whole “5.4 stars” thing may be Tesla blowing its own trumpet a bit too hard.