Tesla earned the highest safety honor from the Road Safety Insurance Institute for the first time in the history of the electric vehicle maker.
The Tesla Model 3 received the organization's Top Safety Pick + 2019 award after achieving "good" performance on all six IIHS crash tests. The compact car also performed well in a headlight test and a test for its frontal collision prevention systems.
The achievement reflects a significant endorsement of Tesla's security systems, which CEO Elon Musk has always praised. The Tesla Model S sedan has been previously tested and performed well, but not enough to achieve maximum honor.
IIHS, a nonprofit auto organization backed by insurance companies, announced the award on Thursday after completing a batch of tests involving electric cars. The Tesla competitor Audi e-tron was the only other pure battery powered car to win the Top Safety Pick + award.
The Chevrolet Bolt performed well on crash tests, but fell short of IIHS's top honors because of a "poor" headlight rating.
Taken together, the results show that electric cars are generally safe to drive.
"You don't have to switch security if you want to choose an electric vehicle," David Zuby, IIHS research director, said in an interview. "Automakers are doing well by providing cutting-edge safety technology in their vehicles."
Tesla said in a blog post that Model 3's low center of gravity reduces the risk of overturning, while "lack of an engine is replaced by a large deformation zone that helps absorb energy more efficiently than a car." gasoline". The company also said the vehicle's glass roof protects passengers during rollover accidents.
For Tesla, the honors come as the company continues to move away from criticism that its autopilot system promises more self-destruct capability than it can offer. Auto safety advocates say partially autonomous systems encourage drivers to get their hands off the wheel, but Tesla says drivers need to keep their hands on the wheel all the time. It is possible, however, to drive the car hands-free for extended periods before the car prompts you to hold the wheel.
Zuby said the IIHS Top Safety Pick + system does not take into account the performance of autopilot or other partially autonomous systems from other automakers. He said the organization is currently developing a test to evaluate the effectiveness of such systems, but it is unclear how this test will be considered in safety ratings, if any.
"Our tests show that the model 3 is a very safe car," said Zuby.
Not the safest, however.
Tesla said in a blog post last year that Model 3 "achieves the lowest likelihood of injury from any vehicle ever tested" by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.
But NHTSA sent a letter of termination and withdrawal to Tesla in October 2018, saying that the company cannot make this claim.
In August, Tesla cited NHTSA test data for frontal, side and rollover crashes and said the company "designed the Model 3 to be the safest car ever built." In his blog announcing Thursday's IIHS announcement, Tesla said "we designed it to be among the safest cars ever built."
The Tesla Model 3. (Photo: Tesla)
In the IIHS tests, six non-Tesla 2019 vehicles achieved better crash test results than the Tesla Model 3, Zuby said.
"I don't think our results confirm that it's the safest car ever," he said.
Follow USA TODAY reporter Nathan Bomey on Twitter @NathanBomey.
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