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Tesla so safe it broke the crash test equipment

According to Tesla, the Model S performed twice as well as other vehicles on the rollover test.
Richard Read
Car Connection

21 Aug 2013 • 4 min read

The Tesla Model S that will arrive in Australia later this year has earned the highest safety score in the history of the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration in the US. In fact, the Model S performed so well, it broke NHTSA's testing equipment.

While US safety ratings also come from the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, the NHTSA conducts its own rigorous battery of tests, too. According to a press release from Tesla, NHTSA “awarded the Tesla Model S a 5-star safety rating, not just overall, but in every subcategory without exception.”

NHTSA conducts frontal, rear, and side impact tests, as well as a side pole impact test. You can see a clip of that last test above: though the impact is intense, the Tesla's cabin holds very, very steady. When all the dust and glass had settled, the Model S retained 63.5 per cent of its driver residual space. In a Volvo put through the same test, that figure was just 7.8 per cent.

But where the Model S really shone was in the rollover test, which determines how likely a vehicle is to flip over, and, when it does, whether its roof can support the weight of the car.

According to Tesla, the Model S performed twice as well as other vehicles on the rollover test. As a matter of fact, NHTSA's normal tests couldn't induce the car to flip, so the agency had to resort to “special means”. Tesla credits the sedan's battery pack for that, which gives the Model S a very low centre of gravity.

In testing the roof of the Model S, NHTSA's equipment finally met its match: the machinery broke just above the 4g mark. As Tesla explains, “While the exact number is uncertain due to Model S breaking the testing machine, what this means is that at least four additional fully loaded Model S vehicles could be placed on top of an owner's car without the roof caving in.”

Tesla Model S is the safest car in NHTSA's history

All told, the Model S had a rollover risk of just 5.7 per cent. Combined with other factors, that makes the Tesla Model S the safest car in NHTSA's history. Australian pricing is yet to be confirmed but the top-line Model S will likely cost $80,000 to $100,000.

Tesla Model S Tesla Model S

While it has passed US crash test requirements, it is yet to be tested by Euro NCAP. The company forecasts a five-star safety rating based on US testing. Eight airbags (two front, two knee, two side and two curtains) and stability control are standard.

Read our reviews of the Tesla Model S here.

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