Tesla took a page out of its Model S playbook over the weekend and announced that its Model 3 is the safest car that NHTSA has tested. Only Tesla isn’t NHTSA.
In a blog post Sunday night, Tesla said it based its findings on NHTSA data, just as it did with the Model S in 2013.
“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,” the company said in its blog post.
READ THIS: 2013 Tesla Model S Crash Tests: What Cars To Compare It To? (2013)
In response, NHTSA issued a statement on Tuesday that reads, in part: “A 5-star rating is the highest safety rating a vehicle can achieve. NHTSA does not distinguish safety performance beyond that rating, thus there is no ‘safest’ vehicle among those vehicles achieving 5-star ratings.”
When it made a similar claim about the Model S in 2013, NHTSA responded by banning automakers from advertising safety ratings higher than the agency does.
Many cars achieve a five-star overall rating, including many sedans.
NHTSA rates cars in three crash tests, and also assigns them a rollover rating. The crash tests include a direct, full-width front crash into a concrete barrier at 35 mph, a side crash at 38.5 mph, and a side crash into a pole. It also rates cars’ propensity to roll over, though not their actual performance in a rollover.
The NHTSA uses its five-star rating to indicate the reduction of risk of serious injury in a crash relative to a baseline of 15 percent, based to the 2008 fleet average for new cars. A five-star rating indicates a reduced risk of serious injury by one-third or more, relative to the 2008 model year. A four-star rating indicates a reduction of risk by up to a third; a three-star rating indicates a reduction of risk equal to or greater by one-third. Very few new cars, if any, receive a two- or one-star rating on the NHTSA system.
Other crash tests are performed by the IIHS, which rates cars in a battery of three front crash tests, a side crash test, and a roof strength test that are different than the NHTSA’s tests.
Safety experts say that the safest cars are those that perform well on all the tests by both agencies. The IIHS has not yet rated the Model 3 in its crash tests.
The institute also rates cars for the performance of their crash avoidance and mitigation systems, and it rates the performance of their headlights (among other things.)
The Model 3 earned the highest “Superior” rating for its front crash prevention systems, meaning that the car’s automatic emergency braking system avoided a crash at both 12 mph and 25 mph, and that its forward collision warning system meets NHTSA’s standards for the operation of such systems.
The Model 3’s headlight performance earned the institute’s second-highest rating (out of four) of “Acceptable.”
In earlier IIHS tests of six cars with automatic driver safety assist systems, the two Teslas, a Model S and a Model 3, each earned the highest scores for avoiding most accidents, but were the only two vehicles to hit a safety balloon in low speed tests of their automatic emergency braking system.