Earlier this week, a Tesla Model 3 driver in Oregon was reportedly speeding along at 100 mph (160 km/h) while drunk and high on marijuana and lost control of his car. The Model 3 struck an electricity pole, a couple of trees, and a utility box, getting absolutely demolished in the process. It was getting smashed to bits for 300 feet after leaving the asphalt as it was “shearing a power pole off at the base as well as striking and knocking over two trees and a telephone junction box.”
Even many of the small batteries packed into the battery pack came flying out, some hitting and entering homes near the roadway. “The force of the crash sent many of the cells into nearby homes, with one of them even landing in the lap of an occupant inside. Another landed on a bed, setting the bed sheets on fire,” Drive Tesla Canada writes. “A tire was ripped from the car during the collision and struck the second story siding of a nearby apartment complex with such force that it ruptured the water pipes within the wall, destroying the bathroom to the apartment and flooding the downstairs portion of the apartment as well,” the the City of Corvallis Police Department wrote in a Facebook post (I guess that’s how some press releases are published these days).
The pictures, all courtesy of the City of Corvallis Police Department, tell more:
The driver was apparently effective at fleeing the scene on foot, but was found a bit later. He is said to have gotten only minor injuries.
I don’t think I’ve ever seen a Tesla so demolished. It’s astounding to me that the driver walked away from the accident at all, let alone with “minor injuries.” I hope to never be in an accident in our Model 3, and especially not one as severe as this, but it is certainly a wonder to find out that the car is that effective at protecting people inside, and it’s a reminder of a matter we covered several times in the past, but not for a long time. This car is a safety wizard.
Indeed, one of the top 4 reasons why we bought a Model 3 was for its safety advantage. With two young girls, I couldn’t accept not having the safest car possible. And Tesla CEO Elon Musk has long said that safety is Tesla’s #1 goal when designing a car. He reiterated that commenting on this recent news.
Driver of this Model 3 lost control over the vehicle at 160km/h. Roof of the car was sheared off, rear end almost completely severed, doors are missing. Force of crash sent individual battery cells into nearby homes.
— Viv 🐉 (@flcnhvy) November 18, 2020
Safety is our primary design goal
— Elon Musk (@elonmusk) November 19, 2020
For more information on why the Model 3 is so safe, below are two blog posts from Tesla about this matter. The first was published after the Model 3 scored the lowest probability of injury of any car ever tested by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) — passing up the #2 Tesla Model S and #3 Tesla Model X to win that award — and the second was published after the Model 3 won IIHS’s TOP SAFETY PICK+ award in September 2019.
Model 3 achieves the lowest probability of injury of any vehicle ever tested by NHTSA
Based on the advanced architecture of Model S and Model X, which were previously found by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) to have the lowest and second lowest probabilities of injury of all cars ever tested, we engineered Model 3 to be the safest car ever built. Now, not only has Model 3 achieved a perfect 5-star safety rating in every category and sub-category, but NHTSA’s tests also show that it has the lowest probability of injury of all cars the safety agency has ever tested.
NHTSA tested Model 3 Long Range Rear-Wheel Drive as part of its New Car Assessment Program, a series of crash tests used to calculate the likelihood of serious bodily injury for front, side and rollover crashes. The agency’s data shows that vehicle occupants are less likely to get seriously hurt in these types of crashes when in a Model 3 than in any other car. NHTSA’s previous tests of Model S and Model X still hold the record for the second and third lowest probabilities of injury, making Tesla vehicles the best ever rated by NHTSA. We expect similar results for other Model 3 variants, including our dual-motor vehicles, when they are rated.
What makes Model 3 safe?
In addition to its near 50/50 weight distribution, Model 3 was also designed with an extremely low polar moment of inertia, which means that its heaviest components are located closer to the car’s center of gravity. Even though Model 3 has no engine, its performance is similar to what’s described as a “mid-engine car” due to its centered battery pack (the heaviest component of the car) and the fact that Model 3’s rear motor is placed slightly in front of the rear axle rather than behind it. Not only does this architecture add to the overall agility and handling of the car, it also improves the capability of stability control by minimizing rotational kinetic energy.
Like Model S and Model X, Model 3 benefits from its all-electric architecture and powertrain design, which consists of a strong, rigid passenger compartment, fortified battery pack, and overall low center of gravity. These safety fundamentals help to prevent intrusion into the cabin and battery modules, reduce rollover risk, and distribute crash forces systematically away from the cabin — all while providing the foundation for our superior front crumple zone that is optimized to absorb energy and crush more efficiently. Here, you can see how the orange internal combustion engine block is thrust towards the cabin during a frontal impact test:
We also added state of the art features and new innovations in crash structure design, restraints and airbags, and battery safety to the core of Model 3’s design:
In frontal crashes, Model 3’s efficient front crumple zone carefully controls the deceleration of occupants, while its advanced restraint system complements this with pre-tensioners and load-limiters that keep occupants safely in place. Specially designed passenger airbags are shaped to protect an occupant’s head in angled or offset crashes, and active vents dynamically adjust the internal pressure of the frontal airbags to optimize protection based on the unique characteristics of the crash. Front and knee airbags and a collapsible steering column work to further reduce injury, all contributing to Model 3’s 5-star rating in frontal impact.
In pole impact crashes, in which a narrow obstruction impacts the car between the main crash rails, energy-absorbing lateral and diagonal beam structures work to mitigate the impact. This includes a high-strength aluminum bumper beam, a sway bar placed low and forward in the front of the car, cross-members at the front of the steel subframe that are connected to the main crash rails, and additional diagonal beams in the subframe that distribute energy back to the crash rails when they aren’t directly impacted. An ultra-high strength martensitic steel beam is also attached to the top of the front suspension to further absorb crash energy from severe impacts, and the rear part of the subframe is shaped like a “U” and buckles down when impacted. These structures continue to be effective even when a front motor is added for Model 3 Dual-Motor All-Wheel Drive, due to the fact that the subframe is designed to pull the nose of the motor down and out of the way.
Model 3 also has the lowest intrusion from side pole impact of any vehicle tested by NHTSA. Unlike frontal crashes, there is little room for crumple zone in a side impact, so we patented our own pillar structures and side sills to absorb as much energy as possible in a very short distance. These structures work alongside the vehicle’s rigid body and fortified battery architecture to further reduce and prevent compartment intrusion. With less intrusion into the cabin, our side airbags have more space to inflate and cushion the occupants inside.
Rollover accidents are a significant contributor to injuries and deaths on U.S. roads. Tesla’s vehicle architecture is fundamentally designed to have a very low center of gravity, which is accomplished by placing the heavy battery pack and electric motors as close to the ground as possible. In the event that a rollover does occur, our internal tests show that the Model 3 body structure can withstand roof-crush loads equivalent to more than four times its own weight and with very little structural deformation. NHTSA’s standards only require that cars withstand loads of three times their own weight.
Many companies try to build cars that perform well in crash tests, and every car company claims their vehicles are safe. But when a crash happens in real life, these test results show that if you are driving a Tesla, you have the best chance of avoiding serious injury.
While NHTSA’s New Car Assessment Program doesn’t distinguish safety performance beyond its 5-star scale, every car rated by NHTSA since 2011 is assigned a Vehicle Safety Score, which NHTSA calculates by taking the weighted average of the Relative Risk Scores (RRS) in front, side and rollover crashes. We compared the underlying and publicly-available NHTSA data for each published vehicle since this calculation protocol began in 2011 (dockets: NHTSA-2010-0164, NHTSA-2011-0085, NHTSA-2012-0055, NHTSA-2013-0053, NHTSA-2014-0043, NHTSA-2015-0034, NHTSA-2016-0045, NHTSA-2017-0037).
The Vehicle Safety Score represents the “relative risk of injury with respect to a baseline of 15%,” according to NHTSA. Model 3 achieved a Vehicle Safety Score of 0.38, which is lower than any other vehicle rated in NHTSA’s public documents. By multiplying the Vehicle Safety Score by NHTSA’s 15% baseline figure, we arrived at an overall probability of injury for Model 3 of 5.7%. Applying the same calculation to each of the vehicles rated in NHTSA’s documents, we found that Model S achieved an overall probability of injury of 6.3%, and Model X achieved an overall probability of injury of 6.5%, making them the vehicles with the second and third lowest probabilities of injury, respectively, based on NHTSA’s publicly-available data and records.
We respect that NHTSA only endorses ratings from 1-5 stars so they can be helpful for the public to make quick and easy comparisons. The star ratings are especially helpful to show on the Monroney window stickers of new vehicles that are offered for sale. At the same time, we used NHTSA’s own methodology and data to help further educate the public about important safety information.
Model 3 earns the 2019 IIHS TOP SAFETY PICK+ Award
We engineer our cars to be the best in the world — in every category. Model 3, our most affordable car yet, is no exception. From the start, we designed it to be among the safest cars ever built, with the goal of getting as many Model 3s on the road as possible to further our mission.
Model 3 has already earned a 5-star safety rating in every category and sub-category from safety authorities on three continents (North America, Europe and Australia), and it has received top marks around the world for its advanced safety assistance features like Automatic Emergency Braking.
Now, in new tests from the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS), Model 3 has been named a 2019 IIHS TOP SAFETY PICK+ vehicle, the highest achievement awarded by the Institute. To evaluate whether Model 3 met the criteria for this top rating, IIHS tested the car’s crashworthiness, occupant protection, crash avoidance, and headlight systems. Model 3 earned top marks in all eight tests, including a superior rating in front crash prevention, which evaluates a car’s Automatic Emergency Braking system, and the highest possible rating in IIHS’ headlight assessment.
Here’s a look at some of the ways we made this happen:
Part of what makes Model 3 so safe is its all-electric powertrain design, which gives the car a low center of gravity that reduces roll-over risk, as well as its rigid aluminum and steel passenger cabin that provides exceptional strength to equally protect drivers and passengers. Additionally, Model 3’s lack of an engine is replaced by a large crumple zone that helps it absorb energy more effectively than a gas car would, dissipating force away from the passenger cabin. This crumple zone contributed to Model 3’s top rating in IIHS’ frontal crash protection tests.
The Institute’s results also demonstrate the exceptional strength of Model 3’s all-glass roof, which is supported by a very strong metal body structure and helps protect occupants in roll-over crashes. During testing, the car’s roof was able to successfully resist more than 20,000 pounds of force — that’s more than if we placed five Model 3s on top of the car’s roof at once. And, the roof earned a higher strength-to-weight ratio score than any other fully electric vehicle that IIHS has ever tested.
In addition, Model 3’s safety restraint system also earned high marks in IIHS’ evaluation. This was due in part to Model 3’s seats, which are designed and manufactured in-house at our dedicated seat factory in Fremont, as well as our thick curtain airbag and uniquely shaped front passenger airbag, which help protect a passenger’s head from the car’s A-pillar and center screen.
In terms of crash mitigation, good headlights can help prevent nighttime crashes, which is why Model 3 comes standard with automatic high and low beam headlights that earned top marks in IIHS testing. And, when it comes to crash prevention, Model 3 earned a superior rating thanks to our Automatic Emergency Braking system, which successfully avoided collisions at both 12 miles per hour and 25 miles per hour.
The safety of our customers is what matters most, which is why our active safety features and passive safety equipment come standard on all of our cars. We’re also committed to making our cars even safer over time via over-the-air updates, helping us ensure that all Tesla drivers have access to the best safety features available for their cars.
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