At Tesla, wishes are the same as facts. So when Tesla wishes the Model 3 to be the “safest car ever built” then it must be so.
Except NHTSA – the federal saaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaafety regulatory agency which rates the saaaaaaaaaaaaaaafety of new cars – takes exception to Tesla’s claims.
The feather-ruffle began over the weekend, when Tesla let loose a lengthy blog post claiming that it had engineered the Model 3 to “be the safest car ever built” and that NHTSA’s tests show that it has “the lowest probability of injury of all cars the safety agency has ever tested.”
But in a statement released on Tuesday, NHTSA disputed Tesla’s claims.
“A 5-Star rating is the highest safety rating a vehicle can achieve,” the agency said in the statement. And then: “NHTSA does not distinguish safety performance beyond that rating, thus there is no ‘safest’ vehicle among those vehicles achieving 5-Star ratings.”
What this means in plain English is that a given car’s star ranking is awarded within its class and relative to other cars within that class. A compact-sized car that receives a 5 Star ranking is “safer” (all this means is it scores higher on various crash tests, not that it is more or less likely to crash) than a compact-sized car that receives a 4 Star ranking .
It does not mean the 5 Star compact is as “safe” as a 5 Star full-size car . . . or even a 4 Star one.
Size does matter when it comes to occupant protection – a fact which NHTSA does not clearly explain to people and which Tesla is trying to exploit via its “safest car ever” flim-flam.
The Model 3 received 5 Star ratings in frontal and side crash tests, rollover prevention and overall. The 2018 Honda Accord, Subaru Legacy and Toyota Camry also scored 5 Stars in those categories – and all of them are mid-sized cars.
They are not as “safe” as full-size cars with the same 5 Star ranking. Take an S-Class Mercedes and a Model 3 – both of them 5 Star awardees – and let them collide at 40 MPH and this fact will become extremely obvious.
NHTSA warned Tesla that using terms such as “safest” and “perfect” to describe a particular rating or an overall score are misleading.
Certainly. But it ought to apply the same brush strokes to itself as much as Tesla. The “star” ranking system is hugely deceptive because most people have no idea that these rankings are not general. They assume that a 5-Star ranked little car is just as “safe” as a 5 Star-ranked full-size car.
And, while we’re at it, how about the the heightened fire risk of electric cars – all of them, not just Teslas? Shouldn’t be taken into consideration with regard to these saaaaaaaaaaaafety rankings?
Gas-engined cars can catch fire, too – but they are less likely to catch fire, for two reasons:
First, there must be a gas leak. Denting or otherwise damaging the tank will not cause a fire or even increase the risk of a fire – unless the tank is dented enough to leak. You can hit a gas tank with a sledgehammer and not risk a fire merely by bashing up the tank. The fuel sloshes around, that’s all.
Gasoline can splash all over the road – and so long as there’s no spark, there’s no worry.
And the gas probably won’t spill unless the car is hit in a very specific way in a very specific place – the place where its gas tank is located, which is usually in the rear of the car. A frontal impact may crush the nose, but it won’t crush the fuel tank – because it’s not there.
With electric cars, the risk of fire is greater for two reasons:
First, the battery pack is vulnerable to damage from almost any impact angle, frontal, rear or side – because it is spread out over the entire length of the car.
Second, if the battery case is damaged, the risk of fire is very high because inside the battery are materials which will spontaneously combust if they come into contact.
No outside ignition source is needed. These fires can get extremely hot, extremely quickly and they are much harder to snuff than a gas fire. Some Teslas which have caught fire and been “put out” lit themselves back on fire the next day.
It’s interesting that NHTSA isn’t issuing an statements about that.
. . .
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