Recently the Tesla Model S received the highest marks ever for safety ratings from the independent rating agency Consumer Reports.
When it comes to safety on the highway the basic law of physics of size and weight matter a great deal. This is partly why the Tesla Model S is such a safe vehicle, as due to the heavy battery packs it weighs in at 4,800 pounds when a typical sedan weighs about 3,500 pounds. Thus in the Tesla Model S you have the safety of a sedan with a low center of gravity so it is less likely to roll, combined with the weight of a typical standard size SUV. In fact the Tesla has the lowest center of gravity of any vehicle ever made due to the battery packs located at the very bottom of the car making it almost impossible to roll.
Vehicle Weight Matters
To illustrate how weight matters, in a motor vehicle collision the amount of bodily injuries will be determined by the fact that a 7,500 pound 3/4 ton truck (similar to pictured below) hitting a 3,500 pound car in a head on collision will not result in a simultaneous stopping of both vehicles; rather, it will result in the small 3,500 pound car, in a split second, going 100 km/h in one direction, to proceeding in the opposite direction at an indeterminate speed. Meanwhile the 7,500 pound truck does not reverse directions; rather it continues on in its same direction and is slowed by the 3,000 pound vehicle.
Furthermore, the 7,500 pound truck also has the advantage of being higher up so that in any side impact collision the occupants head does not strike the motor vehicle as the truck is simply up higher. However, when one is in a car and struck on the side, the occupants head is struck by the hood of the large truck in a side impact resulting in greater bodily injury and brain injury to the occupant of the car. Fortunately, newer vehicles with side curtain air bags have mitigated this downside of sedans.
However that is not the final word on safety as large 7,500 pound trucks are notorious, especially GMC and Chevrolet products, for having very weak roof pillars such that if you are in a single vehicle roll over in such a large truck that 7,500 pound weight works against you and the occupants as far as personal injury as the weight will crush the roof resulting very likely in a fatality. The worst part is these types of trucks having a high center of gravity are very prone to roll-overs!
We have seen this unfortunate occurrence in several cases in our offices located near Medicine Hat and Lethbridge and therefore despite the weight advantage of a large 7,500 pound truck we would not recommend you drive such a vehicle.
Safest Vehicle on The Road?
If such a large vehicle strikes a light post, the weight of the vehicle again acts against the occupants resulting in higher impact forces and fractures and bodily injuries to the occupants than would a lighter smaller vehicle travelling at the same speed.
Thus the compromise for safety is an SUV, which has a weight of approximately 4,500 to 5,000 pounds for a standard size SUV; plus it sits up higher which is an advantage as indicated above in side impact collisions. It also has electronic stability control to help prevent rollovers, resulting in the statistics in the last few years establishing that the safest vehicle on the road is in fact an SUV. As discussed above the new (2012 was the first model year) Tesla Model S weighing in at 4,800 pounds, yet having the stability of a sedan, makes the Model S an excellent choice as well.
When Tesla brings out its Model X next year which is a cross-over vehicle, similar to an SUV, that vehicle may in fact be the safest vehicle on the road depending if it is designed with the same structure, strength and safety features of the Model S car and has the battery packs under the carriage of the vehicle making it almost impossible to roll. This would combine the height advantage of a typical SUV with the roll-over prevention of a sedan making the Model X potentially the safest vehicle ever created. Stay tuned for updates as the Tesla Model X is slated to start rolling out the end of September, 2015.