In a Monday press release, Tesla announced that its latest electric car has received the highest possible safety rating across the board from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA). The Tesla Model S earned an overall 5-star safety rating, with an additional 5 stars in every individual category, a feat that only 1 percent of cars have ever manufactured manage to achieve.
In fact, the Tesla Model S actually achieved a better than perfect score. Though the NHTSA does not officially publish ratings higher than 5 stars, Tesla states that the Model S earned a combined 5.4 stars in the Vehicle Safety Score provided to automobile manufacturers.
The fact that the Model S is an electric car worked strongly in Tesla’s favor for the NHTSA tests. Because the Model S does not have a large gasoline engine under the front hood, engineers were able to design the car’s front section with more crumple room, allowing the Model S to absorb more of an impact’s force without harming the passengers.
“This is fundamentally a force over distance problem -- the longer the crumple zone, the more time there is to slow down occupants at g loads that do not cause injuries,” Tesla stated in its announcement.“Just like jumping into a pool of water from a tall height, it is better to have the pool be deep and not contain rocks."
Most surprisingly, the Tesla Model S actually broke the NHTSA testing equipment. During a roof crush test, the NHTSA applied four times the weight of the car to its roof, at which point the testing machine failed and the Model S’s roof remained completely intact. Currently, the exact amount of weight the Model S roof can support appears to be unknown, but it’s far more than necessary.
Additionally, Tesla claims that it did not achieve such a high safety rating through trickery, just rigid testing and tweaking.
"It is possible to game the regulatory testing score to some degree by strengthening a car at the exact locations used by the regulatory testing machines," Tesla says in its statement. "After verifying through internal testing that the Model S would achieve a NHTSA 5-star rating, Tesla then analyzed the Model S to determine the weakest points in the car and retested at those locations until the car achieved 5 stars no matter how the test equipment was configured."
At this point, the only real problem with the Tesla Model S is its $50k price tag.