Three common safety features Tesla Model S must add now
The Tesla Model S is one of the best cars in which to be in a crash ever built. It has aced the US government’s crash testing done by NHTSA. However, the area of automotive safety now goes far beyond just doing well after the crash begins, and NHTSA is not the world’s leading authority on automotive safety. In fact, NHTSA is not even America’s leading authority on auto safety, the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) is.
Today is the first day of 2014, which marks the third calendar year in which the Tesla Model S has been for sale. As of now, the current Tesla Model S is not available with proven safety technology available from every other automaker in the US, and we don’t mean just at the Tesla Model S’ price point.
Tesla is proud that none of its customers have been killed in a Model S crash and currently Tesla's statement "The Highest Safety Rating In America" is the first thing one sees when clicking on the Tesla website. Hopefully the company's zero fatal occupant record will continue and never change. However, people have been killed in Model S crashes. They were in the other car. In one case witnesses who saw a crash between a Tesla and a Honda Accord say a Tesla veered across the yellow lines and hit the Honda coming the other way head on. Had the Model S been equipped with the safety feature known as lane keeping (not to be confused with the simple warning systems first released), something that all of its price point competitors offer, the accident may never have happened and two people might be alive right now. (see updates in the comments below) This is an extreme example. We point to it not as an insult to the Tesla Model S, but as evidence that automotive safety goes beyond the “mutually assured destruction” that comes from being in the biggest, strongest, heaviest car in an accident.
The IIHS has not tested the Tesla Model S and that is because the Institute generally sticks to moderate to high volume passenger cars which sell at moderate or below price levels. If you don’t believe that look for yourself. Since the Model S has not been tested by IIHS it cannot earn the auto industry’s highest honor, the Top Safety Pick + rating that only cars that do well on the small frontal overlap test and which also have some form of forward collision prevention can earn. We don’t really know how the Model S would do in the small overlap test, but given its robust design we suspect it might do rather well. However, some pretty safe cars that also did well in NHTSA tests were caught out by the small frontal overlap test and many needed to be redesigned before they could pass.
More importantly, Tesla has no forward collision prevention system as of yet. We will not accept that this is outside of Tesla’s scope of technology, and we will not accept that profit margins, or any financial reason would preclude Tesla from adding this to the Model S. In fact, the world’s best system is found on the very affordable Subaru Outback, not a pricey European car. Regardless of how well the Model S crashes, not crashing is a distinct safety advantage. For example, if a Tesla driver in fog at moderate speeds did what so many drivers do and rear ended a parked or slowly moving tractor trailer. More drivers are killed each year this way than are from texting. Forward collision prevention can save a driver’s life in this scenario. The Tesla Model S also has no system to prevent the car from hitting a pedestrian. Many do.
Tesla had better get moving. The US government has a tendency to make safety electronics standard after the technology is available from all manufacturers and at a low price point. ABS, stability control, tire pressure monitoring and rear back-up cameras and are all examples of this (and in order). The Tesla Gen III is likely to be required to have this technology, so why not do it now?
It is also strange that Tesla has not yet added other simple, but proven safety features. One of our favorites is adaptive headlights. These are the lights that turn to point at the road ahead when the car turns. Having owned two cars with this style of lighting the author can attest to their real-world effectiveness. My opinion matters little though. What really matters is that the Highway Loss Data Institute studied some of the newer supposed “safety” features now being sold with new cars and found many, such as blind spot monitoring, did not reduce accidents. However, adaptive front headlights were found to have a measurable, positive affect in preventing crashes. This technology is found on many low cost cars such as the Mazda CX-5 and is has been available since the days of the Tucker. It is also “wicked awesome” to see it work. The Tesla Model S is all about “wicked awesome” technology, which is why we can’t understand how come it is not standard, or at least an option, on this amazing car.
The final technology we thing that the Tesla Model S should adopt quickly is back-up systems. We would include both the ability to have the car stop itself if a child or other object is behind the car (Infiniti introduced this a couple years ago), and also a rear-cross traffic system. Rear cross traffic helps a driver to back out of a spot when to brute ‘utes are on either side and cars come speeding up the isles. It is available on low cost vehicles like the RAV 4 and people that use it love it.
A big part of the reason I write about Tesla is the passion of the owners and enthusiasts. I enjoy the dialogue from fans in the comments under stories. Here I wish to point out a few things before the discussion begins. Note the photo with the story. Is it an exciting photo of a smashed Model S in NHTSA testing? No it is not. Now look down. Is the video of the horrific fatal crash involving a Model S posted there to somehow imply the Model S is not safe? No, I chose not to sensationalize this story at the cost of page views. The news report video of the fatal crash is imbedded as a link to serve as a reference for anyone who wishes to view it. My point is that this is not a story written to slam the Tesla Model S, but rather one intended to spur a constructive dialogue and get Tesla owners and enthusiasts thinking about why such an amazing car is so far behind in such a critical area.