Tesla Model S’ Top Safety Rating Highlights How All Electric Cars are Safe

By · August 23, 2013

Model S Crash Testr

Earlier this week, Tesla announced that the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA)—which crash-tests all new cars sold in the U.S. to ensure they meet the required safety standard—gave the Model S an official five-star rating across the board, a rating only given to about the top one percent of all new cars on the road today.

On NHTSA’s internal scoring system, used to give feedback to automakers on how to improve their car’s safety, the Model S was awarded a rating of 5.4—the highest score to be given a car of any fuel type on NHTSA’s crash tests. Tesla has since been reprimanded by NHTSA for publicly releasing what should be an internal-only score. NHTSA’s public scoring system only goes to five stars. But there's a bigger point: Tesla’s NHTSA test results once again show that EVs are as safe or safer than traditional gasoline cars—hopefully putting to rest any public concerns about EV safety.

Built for Safety

With no heavy gasoline engine under the hood, the Tesla Model S’s under-hood front-trunk area—or ‘frunk’ as Tesla calls it—is essentially a giant crumple zone, absorbing impact in a frontal collision with minimal damage to the cabin and its occupants.

For side impacts, particularly the notorious pole intrusion test, Tesla said multiple extruded aluminum sections along the Model S’s side rail helped it absorb and deflect impact energy around the cabin. As with other tests, the Model S performed admirably, even outperforming the Volvo S60—a car known for its safety credentials—for impact on the driver's space.

Complicated to Test

Like other parts of the NHTSA crash-test, the Tesla Model S outperformed all other cars to date in the rollover test. Thanks to its floor-mounted battery pack, the Model S has an incredibly low center of gravity, making it hard to tip over. According to Tesla, “special means” were needed to induce rollover, since the “Model S refused to turn over via the normal methods.”

It wasn’t the only time the Model S refused to play ball. As Tesla indicated, during validation of the Model S roof crush protection at a third party site, the testing machine designed to determine the force required to crush the Model S’s roof failed before the roof did.

In addition to the tests carried out at the NHTSA, Tesla said, while there have been accidents involving Model S and Roadster models, it is not aware of anyone driver fatalities in a Tesla electric car. Despite its high-current powertrain, Tesla also said that neither the Model S nor Roadster have ever caught on fire, either through regular use or after an impact.

It’s Not Just Tesla

Tesla isn’t the only safe electric car out there. The U.S.-made 2013 Nissan LEAF received a four-star rating from NHTSA, while 2011-2012 LEAFs were given five stars. The 2013 Chevrolet Volt also gets a five-star rating, as does the 2013 Ford Focus Electric. The Smart ForTwo Electric Drive, with a four-star overall rating, outperforms the gasoline version of the SmartForTwo on safety—underscoring the superior safety of an EV, even when applied to the body of an otherwise identical non-battery car.

But perhaps the biggest testament to EV safety is the testimony from EV owners around the world who have been involved in a major accident—and walked away from a wrecked electric car, completely unharmed.

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