I’d Bet Tesla’s “Safety Score” Has Increased Safe Driving Significantly

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I’ve been driving my Tesla Model 3 around for a week and a half with Tesla tracking my every move and scoring me on my braking, turning, following, and more. My Safety Score Beta has been sitting at 99 for days despite my impatience at getting it up to 100. I’m obsessing over how I brake, how I take turns, how closely I follow other cars, and whether or not to turn on Autopilot at different points along my routes. I’ll talk about each of these in a moment, but first want to highlight a broad discussion that’s been going on about it all.

Some people quickly took jokes from Tesla drivers who have been going through this and concluded that Safety Score Beta might actually be encouraging more dangerous driving rather than safer driving. While there may be a small element of relevance there, my impression from my own experiences and what I’ve seen others saying is that the net effect of the Safety Score Beta has been a significant, notable increase in safer driving. But let’s go through each of the core items you get scored by.

Tesla Safety Score Overall Score

Forward Collision Warnings

I haven’t been dinged on this one, but it’s an easy one to understand since “Forward Collision Warning” is on all cars, has been for a long time, and is something any Tesla driver must have experienced at least a few times. Basically, if the car thinks you might run into something because you’re approaching it very quickly and it’s not moving away from you as quickly (or not moving at all), then you will get a “forward collision warning” — the car will blast you with some loud sounds, lights will flash, and the car may even brake by itself.

Naturally, bad driving can lead to forward collision warnings, as well as accidents. This feature has certainly protected me on some occasions — when I didn’t see that cars were stopped in portions of the road where they normally wouldn’t be, for example. On the other hand, you can also get the warning because of cars crossing a street in front of you with plenty of time to spare but close enough to trigger the warning. I have the “following distance” on Autopilot set to a larger number than a smaller one (I think 5) and will get this warning completely unnecessarily at times. I’ve learned to just disengage Autopilot when I see the possibility of that happening, in order to avoid the loud beeping and potentially sharp braking. (Yes, I know, the “following distance” setting is not based on distance, it’s based on time, but “following time” doesn’t sound right.)

Hard Braking

This is the one that has dinged me a few times, which I’ve written about already. The algorithm is extremely sensitive to braking. It appears that if you touch the brake pedal at all, you lose points. I have done so two or three times and that’s where the majority of my lost half point has come from. (As you can see in the app screenshot above, the system says I have lost 0.5 points in total, 0.3 of them from “hard braking” — none of which was hard braking.) On the one hand, I’m at 99, so I don’t have much to complain about, but on the other hand, the system is too sensitive and I am hyper focused on not touching the brake pedal at all in order to not lose any points.

This is apparently the place where many drivers (myself included) joke a bit. “If a [squirrel/kid/deer] runs in front of the road, what should you do, brake and lose a few points or just keep driving?” It’s an obvious joke to highlight the sensitivity of the system. Some people have taken the jokes as serious questions, though, which I would assume is partly just a natural reaction without thinking through it and partly a form of dishonesty — clearly, no one is going to hit an animal or person to avoid a small deduction on this Safety Score. Hitting someone or something would surely result in some kind of major deduction anyway. However, one of our writers said that she’s heard of someone running a stop sign to avoid having to brake. If the roads are free of cars in that spot, I could actually see that happening. So, this is a case where, potentially, someone could break the law to score higher. There’s a simple solution, though: Tesla cars can see stop signs and red lights, so drivers should lose more points for running stop signs (many more points, in theory) or red lights than they do for touching the brake pedal. I hope and assume Tesla will adjust its scoring algorithms a bit on this.

Overall, though, my impression is that most drivers brake too much from following other cars too closely, from not scanning the roadway, and from not preparing for potential stopping scenarios. I’ve known plenty of people who, in my opinion, do not drive safely in this regard. I assume most people trying to score well on the Tesla Safety Score Beta have been following less closely, scanning the road better, and getting more prepared for potential stopping scenarios. Well, I don’t even have to look far — I am doing so! I am not far off of my natural driving habits, but attempting to never touch the brake means getting into a serious grandpa style of driving. Some of it may even be forming new habits. Some of this cautious driving is extreme and I look forward to being able to use the brake again in basic, normal ways, but some of it is surely helpful. Across the fleet, I assume that this continuous review is leading to a lot more safe driving, and hopefully safer long-term driving habits.

Aggressive Turning

I don’t have much to say on this one. I got dinged on this on Saturday when I drove quite far south, travelled on the Interstate, and drove in some busier urban areas. Unlike the “hard braking” I did to stop at a yellow light and crosswalk, I don’t really have a clue where my “aggressive turning” took place. I was driving super cautiously (of course) and didn’t turn aggressively or even strongly in any place I’m aware off. Perhaps it was from the looping onramp onto the Interstate? Perhaps it was a turn on a street where cars in front and behind were going at a moderate speed and if I had driven too much like a grandpa, I wouldn’t be driving safely or respectfully? I don’t know.

Tesla Safety Score Aggressive Turning Score

The point, again, seems to be that the system is a little too sensitive. If you’re going to have a scoring system for this, don’t mark people down for things that are well within safe, normal parameters.

Unsafe Following

Apparently, a lot of people get marked down for this. I’m not surprised at all. I was taught when learning how to drive that you should always drive 3 seconds or more behind the car in front of you. That means that you’ll be a bit closer when driving at a slow speed (think of inching through a school pickup line at 5–10 mph, for example) and you’ll need to leave much more space between your car and the car in front when driving on faster roads like the Interstate. Look at the car in front pass a marker and count (not too quickly) to 3. From my perspective, the vast majority of people on the road drive too closely behind others. I assume this is the cause of many accidents and why proper following is emphasized strongly in driver education manuals and classes. Of course, once people get used to driving closer, they will feel that’s natural, fine, and safe. Even if it’s not.

I assume that most of the drivers who have been losing points for following too closely behind other cars have been learning to leave more space. I hope they will get used to that and our roads will be safer for them and for others. At the very least, I hope that drivers will become more aware that they are not actually in the “safe driver” category with this behavior and will keep that in mind and be more cautious in more dangerous scenarios.

I don’t see this scoring item as causing any dangers. I don’t assume anyone trying hard to not lose points on this is doing something dangerous. I see it as being a strong positive.

Forced Autopilot Disengagements

This is a straightforward one and something that I don’t think many people are losing points on. If you have Autopilot engaged, it doesn’t take long before the system is nagging you to move the steering wheel a bit to prove that you’re paying attention. If you don’t do this for too long, the car will kick you out of Autopilot and not let you use it again until you stop the car, put it in park, and then start it again. For anyone who this has happened to a few times, you are probably much more likely to watch out for those pulsing blue lights on the touchscreen to avoid it happening again. (Note: it’s actually easy to be paying attention to the road but not notice the pulsing blue lights, so you have to get a bit accustomed to watching out for the pulsing blue lights as well.)

No matter what, it must be uncommon for drivers to be on Autopilot and go through this forced disengagement. However, for anyone who it has happened to, the point is clear: make sure you’re paying a lot of attention while on Autopilot. Net plus.

Totaling It All Up

Altogether, I think I’ve made the case that the Safety Score Beta system is improving safety in net. That’s my point of view. That said, there are a few key tweaks I’d make.

I certainly do hope that Tesla retains this gamification program and continues to encourage drivers to practice safe driving habits. It could go a long way toward cutting crashes and deaths. My understanding is that Tesla will be using this system in the Tesla Insurance program, and some other insurance companies do have similar — but not quite as thorough — systems. Our own Maarten Vinkhuyzen is in a non-Tesla program a bit like this in the Netherlands to cut insurance costs and has testified that it does help, like the Tesla system seems to help. Even where Tesla can’t implement its own insurance, I hope it will roll this out or keep it out with some sort of incentives (even if only games) for safe driving.

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Zachary Shahan

Zach is tryin' to help society help itself one word at a time. He spends most of his time here on CleanTechnica as its director, chief editor, and CEO. Zach is recognized globally as an electric vehicle, solar energy, and energy storage expert. He has presented about cleantech at conferences in India, the UAE, Ukraine, Poland, Germany, the Netherlands, the USA, Canada, and Curaçao. Zach has long-term investments in Tesla [TSLA], NIO [NIO], Xpeng [XPEV], Ford [F], ChargePoint [CHPT], Amazon [AMZN], Piedmont Lithium [PLL], Lithium Americas [LAC], Albemarle Corporation [ALB], Nouveau Monde Graphite [NMGRF], Talon Metals [TLOFF], Arclight Clean Transition Corp [ACTC], and Starbucks [SBUX]. But he does not offer (explicitly or implicitly) investment advice of any sort.

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