June 25, 2017

Tesla Model S Misses IIHS Top Safety Pick Designation

02 February 2017, 12:44 | Candice Butler

In a recent crash test by the Insurance Institute of Highway Safety (IIHS), two plug-in hybrids - Toyota Prius Prime and Chevy Volt - earned the highest Top Safety Pick Plus designation, while Tesla's Model S and the BMW i3 fell short.

The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety just released results of its crash test of four electric and hybrid vehicles.

It also said that the car's headlights rank "Acceptable" and that its available collision avoidance tech is classified as "Advanced". Tesla noted that recent production changes to the Model S includes updates to address the IIHS issues, and "We expect to receive the highest possible rating in every category, making Model S eligible for the IIHS Top Safety Pick award" when the newer version is tested. First, it only received a score of "Acceptable" in the hard small overlap front test, which mimics contacting a telephone pole or similar.

"Despite lengthening the side curtain air bags to improve small overlap protection in the Model S, Tesla ran into problems in the test when the safety belt allowed the dummy's torso to move too far forward", it said. The IIHS also had concerns about potential leg injuries.

Notably, since the Model S' automatic emergency braking system (packaged within AutoPilot) hasn't been activated on all models, the IIHS wasn't able to test its effectiveness.

But that's not its only shortcoming.

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One Model S variant in particular, the high-performance P100D, was also dinged for its roof strength. Another reason it didn't win the IIHS Top Safety Pick+: Its only available headlights earned a "poor" rating.

David Zuby, IIHS executive vice president and chief research officer, said the insurance group hopes Tesla and BMW will make improvements.

Where BMW's dedicated electric vehicle came up short was in its head restraints, which the IIHS rates only as "Acceptable", due to their limited protection from whiplash in rear-impact tests.

The IIHS evaluated this vehicle at their proving grounds in late December 2016 and was awarded a "GOOD" rating. They were designated as Top Safety Pick Plus vehicles. It is a odd oversight - the i3 is the only small vehicle that IIHS has tested that didn't earn a good rating in this category for 2017. While such injuries are rarely fatal, they are the most common type of crash injury and can cause debilitating pain. The IIHS also criticized Tesla's choice of headlamps for the Model S; the automaker says it's working with suppliers to improve them.

The institute said Tesla made a production change this month to address the problem, so the vehicle will be tested again.

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