Tesla Safety Rating: Is the Tesla Model 3 the Superhero We Need?

 In Auto Professor's Safest, Sedans, Vehicle Safety

Does the Tesla Safety Rating Make it a Superhero?

When a superhero enters a movie screen, all our fears and anxieties suddenly disappear. We start breathing again and see the future. We know that the superhuman will rescue the well-intentioned characters from disaster and extinction. Things may seem hopeless, but we still hope for a rescue. Movies seldom disappoint.

Back in reality, we see images of glaciers melting, coral reefs whitening, and plastics floating in our oceans.  The existential effects of climate change are causing disorder around the world. We are collectively holding our breath, hoping for a superhero.

Enter the Model 3. When Tesla proposed the Model 3 as the first mass-produced electric vehicle, there were signs of hope. We could reduce our carbon footprint and have fun. When the first Model 3 drove off the factory floor in 2018, the promise appeared to be fulfilled. We had our superhero.

Owning a Model 3 appears to mean that you are doing your part to save the planet. And consumers around the globe are cheering.

Plus, Tesla boasts that the Model 3 has yet another superpower: safety. The Model 3 holds the highest safety ratings from authorities worldwide. Federal Star-Safety rating: 5-star; Institute for Highway Safety: Top Safety Pick+, Euro NCAP and Australian ANCAP.

We have been rescued!

We can breathe again!

But, wait, this real life story has a plot twist.

Written into the fine print of all these Tesla safety ratings is that the ratings are not very useful in real-life situations. You see, the Model 3 scored high within its class and weight category.

You might think of these like wrestling classes. There’s a reason you don’t put a 350 lb wrestler in the same ring as a fellow weighing 220. But you don’t have the same luxury of choosing which vehicles are on the road with you.

Can this mid-size superhero actually protect us in real life against larger threats like SUVs and pickup trucks? To explain how this superhero may only have limited power, let me focus on the federal star rating system.

The federal rating system has categories: 5-star is the highest, 4-star the next, etc. within a specific class and weight. The classes may be easy to recognize, e.g., mini, small sedan, mid-size sedan, full-size sedan, etc.

But the weight category requires some digging. In particular, the safety ratings of cars should only be compared if their weights differ by less than 250 lbs.

So the 2018 Model 3, a mid-size sedan weighing 3,885 lbs, can only be compared to other mid-size sedans with weights between 3,635 and 4,135 lbs.

Let’s see how this plays out in real life.

The 2018 Toyota Hybrid Camry also got a 5-star safety rating. Does that mean it is equally safe as the 2018 Model 3?

Unfortunately, we cannot say they are equally safe since the Camry weighs 3,549 and the Model 3 weighs 336 lbs more. The ratings cannot be compared.

How about the 2018 Volvo S60? It’s within the Model 3 weight category at 3,703 lbs. And the Volvo and the Tesla both got 5 stars. So, which is safer?

Here’s where the superhero claims superiority.

According to the Tesla safety rating information on the Tesla blog, since the Model 3 scored the lowest score ever (implying lowest risk of severe injury, resulting in the ‘best 5-star rating’), then clearly it’s safer than the Volvo S60.

But the federal star rating agency, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, is pulling at the cape of our superhero. It is warning Tesla against making such grand claims because it knows the limitations of its laboratory tests. Yet fans of our superhero are fighting back.

However hopeful they are, these fans cannot answer the key question confronting our superhero: how well will the Model 3 protect occupants in real collisions with different-class, different-weight vehicles? Would they care to crash a Model 3 into  a Ford F-150, a Subaru Outback or a Jeep Wrangler to test the mettle (or metal) of their hero?

That’s going to happen sooner than we might like. For the sake of Model 3 drivers and our planet, I sure hope that this hero doesn’t disappoint.

Working together to create a world where everyone walks away from a crash.