Tesla says its all-electric Model S is the safest car ever tested

Tesla workers cheer on one the first Tesla Model S cars sold during a rally at the Tesla factory in Fremont, Calif., in June. The company is now unveiling a new network of refueling stations for the vehicles.
Tesla workers cheer on one the first Tesla Model S cars sold during a rally at the Tesla factory in Fremont, Calif., in June. The company is now unveiling a new network of refueling stations for the vehicles. Paul Sakuma/Associated Press

When a kid gets straight A's, their parents might post the report card on the refrigerator.

When Tesla Motors' Model S scored 5 out of 5 stars in all federal crash tests, the company put out a press release.

"Tesla Model S achieves best safety rating of any car ever tested," read the release, dated Monday, August 19th.

The Model S is an all electric, battery powered luxury car with a base price of $63,000, but it can sell for more than $100,000 when upgrades are included. The car entered the market last summer.

The  National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) performs three safety tests on cars; a front impact test, a side impact test and a roll-over test. The Model S aced all three.

The NHTSA does not publish scores higher than 5 stars but has its own internal metrics which can yield a score above that number. Tesla Motors says it's Model S scored a record setting 5.4 stars on that scale.

"Good for them," remarked Carroll Lachnit from the car rating website Edmunds. "But I guess my question is what difference does it make?"

She says many cars have achieved a 5 star rating, including the 2 door Honda Accord and the Cadillac ATS, and most cars on the road in America are very safe. She wonders if the added fractional points really indicate a substantially safer vehicle.

"The thing that is sort of the wild card these days in car safety is not the car - it's the driver," said Lachnit.  She points out that 90% of all accidents are caused by human behaviors such as texting or tuning the radio.

The Tesla Model S has a large screen in the center console, Lachnit added, which could be a distraction for some drivers.

Mehdi Ahmadian, director of the Center for Vehicle Systems and Safety at Virginia Tech, says the design of the Model S played a part in its remarkable crash test performance.

The car does not have a gas powered engine and the front is used as a second trunk. Ahmadian says that extra space allows the car to crumple more, absorbing the impact and protecting occupants.

He also pointed out that the electric battery is located on the bottom of the car, lowering its center of gravity and reducing the risk of rollovers.

Virginia Tech's Mehdi Amadian told KPCC Tesla's performance is a good sign for other electric car makers, since they could easily create vehicles with similar architecture.

"We are not only having vehicles that are better for the environment but also safer for the driver," he said.

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