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 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 misleading 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.