Tesla publicly introduced the Safety Score a month and a half ago as the filter for its public Full Self Driving (FSD) Beta program. The Tesla Safety Score is itself a beta system, pulling in various metrics from a vehicle’s onboard telematics system to determine the risk of the driver getting into an accident. It’s insurance 101, but Tesla is one of the first automotive OEM and insurance companies to have the access and ability to perform these calculations in real time.
Disclaimer: Before we go too much deeper, it is worth noting that I own Tesla stock. I’m a huge fan of the company because of the sense of urgency with which it attacks climate change. It has become the embodiment of climate action. Its products raise awareness of the need to electrify transportation and sustainably generate and store electricity, and they simultaneously satisfy that need.
Tesla is financially incentivised to ensure the accuracy of its Safety Score as a key input to its insurance business, and, in the case of Full Self Driving Beta, to minimize the potential for accidents from drivers using its advanced driver-assistance system (ADAS). That’s all fine and good, but it’s not terribly exciting for anyone outside of the finance and insurance world. Safety isn’t sexy, but greater safety can translate into a ton of human lives saved each and every year.
1.35 MILLION lives lost on roads / YEAR. If those vehicles were Tesla + Autopilot, deaths would be drastically REDUCED even BEFORE Autopilot is finished.
— 🔋Tesla Opinion🔋 (@TeslaOpinion) February 18, 2020
In practice, Tesla’s Safety Score is one of the first examples of gamification being leveraged to encourage safer driving. Gamification is, at its essence, the inclusion of points, competition, and rewards to elicit the desired result. It’s all the rage in marketing, and increasingly of interest in education. Adding elements of more traditional games — like competition, points, and rewards — not only makes learning more fun, it increases retention. It’s a win across the board.
Tesla’s Safety Score gamifies safety by rating each and every drive in the car with a score from zero to one hundred. The score is determined by a handful of critical criteria, with all of the supporting data and calculations put into Tesla’s app for the user to review. It’s like getting a scorecard that you can review each month.
The system monitors each drive, keeping an eye on all Forward Collision Warnings at its predetermined Medium setting, and tracks all instances of Hard Braking, Aggressive Turning, and Unsafe Following. The resulting scorecard provides a metric for each and a green–yellow–red sliding scale that shows owners what they need to improve to raise their score.
That’s interesting and helpful, but it’s little more than data at that point. I mean, really, who is going to check their Safety Score just for fun on a Saturday night, let alone brag about it to their friends?
That’s where Tesla’s team really turned safety up a few notches. They knew Safety was boring and tapped their good friend Full Self Driving Beta to entice drivers to care about their Safety Score. As Tesla readied Full Self Driving Beta for the masses, it planned to roll it out first to drivers with perfect Safety Scores. With the gauntlet thrown, the Twittersphere overflowed with owners posting their Safety Scores, bragging or crying about when they would get the FSD Beta software on their vehicles.
It was the perfect carrot to lure drivers into safer habits. True to its word, Tesla first rolled the software out to the ~1,000 drivers who got perfect Safety Scores within a couple of weeks, including our very own Zachary Shahan. A few weeks and software revisions later and the software was deployed to drivers with Safety Scores of 99.
Outside of the high level “Safety Score” number, the numbers for each metric don’t really matter but they do help to tune driver behavior. When I first activated the Safety Score in our Tesla Model 3, my Safety Score ebbed and flowed between 96-98. Once, I hit a yellow light and slammed the brakes to stop and came back with a 92. After reviewing these events, I realized how rapid braking, rapid acceleration, and rapid turning all lowered my score.
I had a Forward Collision Warning while on the way from one soccer game to another for my boys that translated to a single drive score of a 62, bumping my total score down into the low 90s. I deprioritized maintaining a perfect score, instead relegating myself to the slower process of climbing my way back up the Safety Score ladder one point at a time. I tuned my behavior over the course of a few weeks and am finally back up to a 99.
The process has been a powerful lesson about the power of gamifying to turn something that we otherwise wouldn’t care about into something important — and tweetable. They go together. By gamifying safety, Tesla has created a foundation for building safe driving habits from the ground up. By tying safe driving to access to Full Self Driving Beta, Tesla has made safety sexy. It’s something we all want. Not because we want to drive safe, but because we want early access to the Full Self Driving Beta.
It’s hard to drive Teslas slow. Just ask Zach. The first time he drove my Tesla Model S a few years ago, he was so excited he blasted onto the freeway and snagged himself a ticket. The instant torque, the silent boost, and the smiles they put on your face are seriously alluring. He’s a very safe driver, but it’s not always easy to focus on safety with that much power just waiting to be unleashed.
Fast forward to 2021 and he’s fully reformed. When Tesla announced the Full Self Driving Beta was going to be released to the safest drivers, Zach studied up on the system and earned a perfect Safety Score of 100. It’s possible, folks.
But seriously, what Tesla has proved with the perfect pairing of the Safety Score and the rollout of Full Self Driving Beta is that it is completely possible to retrain drivers by using gamification techniques to change behavior. As an insurance company, that’s interesting and potentially financially lucrative for Tesla. As humans that simply want to get from point A to point B without an accident, injury, or dying, it’s exciting.
Full Self Driving Beta is a fantastic lure, but once drivers have it, the lure is gone. There is little to no incentive to maintain a high Safety Score after the Full Self Driving Beta has been pushed down to the car. Granted, you do need to drive safely through the FSD Beta program or risk having it removed, but it’s no longer tied directly to the Safety Score. In fact, Tesla removes the Safety Score section from FSD Beta drivers’ apps — you can no longer view your Safety Score once you get FSD Beta.
As such, the challenge is really for Tesla to find the next big thing that’s lucrative enough for drivers to continue to care about their Safety Score. For vehicles insured under Tesla Insurance, it’s not hard to imagine competing for lucrative experiences or rewards. What if the top score for the month of August earned someone a trip to Tesla’s factory for an exclusive tour? How about a Tesla corporate jacket for everyone with a score of 100 for the month of February? The options are endless, but for now, we have FSD Beta as the big lure.
Ultimately, I don’t want people to drive Teslas. I want Teslas and other autonomous vehicles to drive people around in the future because they will eventually be safer than humans in all situations. But until that day, I’m thankful Tesla is leaning into gamification to make “humanpilots” the safest drivers they can be.
In 2020, 23,395 passenger vehicle occupants died in the US. That’s more than 64 people a day dying. Essentially all of those deaths could be called “Humanpilot deaths” — if we really want to put Tesla Autopilot (which seems to have led to 0 deaths) into comparative context. https://t.co/q4TV77aSoG
— CleanTechnica (@cleantechnica) August 21, 2021
Don't want to miss a cleantech story? Sign up for daily news updates from CleanTechnica on email. Or follow us on Google News!
Have a tip for CleanTechnica, want to advertise, or want to suggest a guest for our CleanTech Talk podcast? Contact us here.