Safety: Why I Bought My Wife a Model S

In our house, my wife generally looks to me for all things tech.  When she needs a new car, I usually ask about her contemporary needs and then propose some qualified options.

In this case, we did it quite differently.  The reason why is an object lesson in one of many things team Tesla did very, very right.

I had aleady ordered a Model S for me. Although I love that it doesn't burn gas, I chose it because it offers the best combination of performance and ride quality on the market.  When I considered cars for her, I thought about it for all of 5 seconds. Then I promptly ordered a second model S just for her.  The reason?  Safety.

I thought about my wife and kids being swaddled in a state of the art cocoon, ingenuously designed by the world's most aggressive automotive engineers, to shield people better than any other car.  That instantly trumped everything else.

Safety engineers like to say that there are actually three collisions in an accident. The first is when your car hits the other.  The second is when your body hits the interior.  And the third is when your brain hits the inside of your skull.

Because there is no motor in front, and lots of smart structure, the Model S crumple zone is 3X longer than other cars.  Because of this, the striking reality is that even the biggest BMW 7 or Mercedes S would expose my family to 3X greater G forces in a head-on collision.  That's 3X greater trauma to all their internal organs.  When you can do something that so materially improves the survivability of your loved ones, you don't hem and haw.  You just do it.  

Funny thing, this is.  There are so many nuanced dimensions to deciding a capital purchase like a car.  Yet because of TM's groundbreaking work on EV-enabled safety, it reduced a complicated decision to a very simple one.  

For me, the compelling logic was that any other choice would expose my wife and kids to materially greater risk of death.

By accepting the challenge of being not merely as good, but in fact meaningfully better on every key metric, TM radically changed our thinking ... and doubled their revenue from my house.

While we were all so impatiently waiting, those engineers were not idle.  They actually got something seriously significant done.  

For my family, it could turn out to be life-changing.

If others will drive your S, does safety weigh in your choice?

You're a great person, I applaud you :)

Excellent point.

If I could afford it, I'd buy another Model S for my wife in a heartbeat. Since I can't (yet), we'll have to settle for the proxy of using mine and leaving her car in the garage as much as possible.

ICE cars: "Unsafe at any speed".

This is definitely a main reason to move forward with my decision to purchase my Tesla also.

Mark K - Well stated. It is one of the primary reasons for my purchase. As for my wife and are two considerations

My wife is on board only because I am so passionate about the car and the many reasons we (all of us) need it. I would very much like to order her one because of safety. For the exact reason you have detailed above. My hope is that once she drives the S and get comfortable with it we will order an X for her. (She likes the convenience of a van/suv.)

My second consideration, which initially flies in the face of safety, is the acceleration of the car. 98% of people admit they love the acceleration of the car and it is a significant reason they are purchasing it. The other 2% lie. :) I am getting the performance version and therein lies my issue. (Although this car is fast in any configuration.) Of my 5 children 2, twin 16 year old girls, still live with us. I would love for them to take the S when out (and I'm not using maybe in 5-10 years :)) because it is so much safer. But I have to be honest with myself, it is only safer when properly driven and this car screams at you to accelerate fast/drive fast. That is NOT safe. This is why I am hoping and praying that TM makes a modified valet mode available soon. I want and need (for peace of mind) to have a driving mode that I can lock in and password secure that limits the top speed (say 70mph) and it's acceleration (say 0-60) in 8-9 seconds. Then I will have the best of both worlds and truly the safest car in the world. Without this much needed enhancement it will only be the safest car in the hands of older and more mature drivers. (In our house that would be limited to my wife!)

It was a gating factor when we got the last two cars for my wife. The first was a Subaru, which we got for the traction control when we lived in the mountains. You COULD NOT get the car into an unstable condition. I tried a variety of stops on ice and snow, and could not get the thing to do anything other than stop in a straight line. Could not do donuts in forward or reverse, could not bet it to fishtail, nothing. "most boring car ever" was how I described my torture ride on snow. Allways felt good about that car for her, as she's not a snow driver. Next car for her when we got to the flat land was a Volvo. Bought that based on reputation, and the advice of my body shop expert. So one of the questions she asked, since she'll drive it much of the time was safety. The car had just gone through it's crash tests, and she was pleased to find it's got a perfect 5 across the board. So I feel good about this as well. Safety is a primary concern, and we are very pleased with the Tesla vehicle.

@ Mark K | OCTOBER 8, 2012: Because there is no motor in front, and lots of smart structure, the Model S crumple zone is 3X longer than other cars. Because of this, the striking reality is that even the biggest BMW 7 or Mercedes S would expose my family to 3X greater G forces in a head-on collision.

Where did you get the 3X greater G forces info? Many modern cars are designed so that the engine slides under the passenger compartment during a frontal impact. I would think that this also absorbs some of the impact force. The rest of the force is absorbed by the remaining frontal structures. A modern car is similar to a Model S, in that the Frunk is occupied by an engine.

On the safety topic I would also add, it can be much safer to refuel in your garage than at a gas station, depending on where you live or where you need to stop for gas.

A side note is germaphobe wives will live not having to touch the gas pump.


Are you married to Howie Mandell? :)

You make a great point. No more stops at shady-looking gas stations with the Model S. Gas stations are where I am most often hit up by bums with stories about their broken down cars looking for handouts. The shell station @Kirby & 59 is a frequent violator.

Alex - ICE cars are designed to prevent intrusion of the engine into the passenger compartment. To achieve this, they limit the crumple zone to about 1/3 the hood distance. A few cars with very short hoods use the "slide under" technique to try to compensate, but the gross deceleration distance is still about 1/3 of Model S.

An example of the slide-under technique is the Mercedes A class. This makes the frontal crash safety similar to the larger E class. However, because the A is so short, both it and the E have a shorter deceleration distance than an MB S class sedan, which has the longest hood in their line. Still, the MB S is constrained to 1/3 crumple length because the motor is so large and it's very hard to integrate slide-under.

The Model S has both a long hood, and it's all crumple zone. It's designed to crumple all the way up to the safety cage around the passengers in a very severe impact. This is unique in the automotive world.

The combination provides unparalleled safety. Not 10% lower G force, but 3X, which a massive improvement.

TM engineers did not need to do this to achieve parity with competing cars, but they chose to far exceed others to emphasize the benefit of their EV architecture.

(See Freemont beta presentation video from October 2011).

@jjs - I believe the same thing about teenagers. A "milder acceleration mode" is appropriate when kids drive, and because TM has the infrastructure to issue an update like this at any time, I expect that we will see this after the startup ramp is done and volume is running smoothly. (Engineers are working 100 hour weeks right now).

BTW, it's easy to create such a "mild" mode quickly, but what takes time is to make sure it is extensively validated and doesn't cause unintended consequences.

For my kids, I made a decision long ago. Human prefrontal lateral cortex development is not mature until about age 23. So executive judgement at 16 is very different, no matter how smart you kid is, or how well trained. The damning reality is that 16 year olds are 5X more likely than 20 year olds to get into serious accidents.

So our family plan is that they will drive with us starting at 17, and they start independently at 18. Since the brain lobe development advances a lot in those two years, it radically lowers risk.

I will turn on "kid mode" for them the first day it arrives over the air.

One last thought about safety: in the hands of a skilled driver, instant acceleration and great slalom specs can actually improve safety. Being able to squirt out of trouble has its application at certain critical moments. It's part of "active" vs. "passive" safety.

That said, let's all pick our moments wisely to enjoy the ride responsibly. The early adopters of this car and what it represents are the ambassadors to the rest of the world. So first, do no harm.

Did Tesla ever announce achievement of a 5-star safety rating? I saw Elon's tweet, but the wording seemed a little ambiguous, so I was hoping to see an official announcement but never saw one.

As the wife that is getting the Model S, we love all of you guys that think that way! Now, we must consider whether to buy my husband a Model S LOL, :)

Honestly, the safety of a car I drive hasn't been a concern for me in the slightest. It's just a bragging point for me to tell people what you can do with electric cars when you don't lug that big engine around.


I thought I read somewhere that the official crash test reports lag behind the test by 6 or more months (sorry no link). I doubt Telsa can really start pointing to the safety rating until the official report is out.

Schlerme - they submitted their test results to the NHTSA, which will publish them in a future periodic update.

Because there is a lot of self-testing, manufacturers know how they did before it is officially published.

The gist of Elon's comments were that they met their "5 stars accross the board" goal.

Further, he wished the scale "went to 6" because pegging to 5 doesn't adequately express just how far they exceed previous standards.

Great thread! There is a significant safety device that can be installed in any car for about $100.... its a skid car class at your local race track or performance driving school.

Seriously: we paid for all of our nieces and nephews to go thru the half day school when they turned 16 and got their license. They learned about skid control (think icy roads), slalom (you can turn around hazards much easier than you think) and braking (proper use of anti-skid brakes is often not intuitive to new drivers).

Its like the pilot training I do every six months in a simulator: "the best safety device in any vehicle is a properly trained pilot/driver".

oh yeah, they will arrive home grinning like a fool too. So far none has had a serious accident but several stories they tell about avoiding danger thanks to their training.

How does your wife like being considered the only "older" person in your household?

(Ja, Ya, I get it. You were really referring to the "mature" part. Stick to that story!)

pilotSteve - excellent point.

I'm planning on a weekend in Willow Springs to teach my kids about the behavior of cars at the physical limits, and how to recover in an emergency. One of the best investments you can make in your kids' safety.

@Mark K

Excellent thread! Do you know if other rear-engine cars have taken similar steps (make a larger crumple zone), or if Tesla is the first to think about doing that?

I'm not sure if there are any other rear-engine sedans on the market, so I know it wouldn't exactly be apples-to-apples, but I'm curious.

Porsche. It has nose just like any other car, even that engine is in back. It even has frunk just like Model S. In fact Porsche would be pretty great "platform" for sporty BEV, if you just could put the battery at the floor like in Model S. Aerodynamics, handling, traditional shape etc. would not need to change for BEV-version of a Porsche. Even air intakes for cooling would not need to change.

When Tesla first revealed the beta-version of Model S with the really ugly plastic nose cone (they have made good job to make it look better since), I was really hoping that it would go away, and the final version would look more like a Porsche front. I still think that black cone is there just for it to look "traditional", and it is quite unnecessary.

It's a radar dome for future adaptive cruise ...

An extra hi-power emitter for adaptive passing ...

I thought it was the deflector dish

Timo, to prove your point, RUF has taken a 911 and converted it into an electric sports car:

Porsche themselves base their electric attempts on the Boxster:

Timo - that's right. 911, Boxster and Cayman are all rear engine.

The NHTSA database lists those models crash ratings as "not available".

This isn't as bad as it sounds. I think Porsche engineered reasonable crash worthiness, but I do think they stopped at parity with other small cars. Their audience is more focused on performance than safety.

If their hoods were longer, Porsche could have taken the time to do what TM did with a very robust progressive crush structure. But only Tesla went the extra mile.

TM combined rear engine, a long hood, and very aggressive engineering of the crumple zone, all the way from the bumper to the windshield / safety cage. No one has ever done this before.

That Tesla chose to do this, I think, is emblematic of their engineering culture. Their credo is "Outperform" .

"Try? There is no try Skywalker. There is only do."

@Mark K-

Yes, that was exactly my question: is anyone else trying to outperform?

And one has to point out that the comparable Porsche, the Panamera, isn't rear-engine...

Timo - that's right. 911, Boxster and Cayman are all rear engine. (Mark K)

As a German, it is my obligation to be nit-picky on this one: Only the 911 is a rear engine. Boxster/Cayman is mid-engine, which is why some have a strong preference for the latter over the former when it comes to racing the track. The weight distribution towards the (horizontal) center of the car arguably results in better cornering characteristics. If driven really hard, the 911 can only be kept on track by real pro's or with heavy reliance on electronics.

I understand that the “S” has achieved across the board 5 star crash safety rating using current Federal crash standards. My question is, How does the “S” hold up to the new IIHS Partial Collision test that has almost all the auto industry upset?

I think TM (at Elon's insistance) anticipated and designed for those standards, and were thus saying they had 6-star ratings, if there were any.

Volker.Berlin, depends of the definition of "rear" in this case. Boxster and Cayman both have engines behind the driver and closer to rear than front in long axis of the car, so "rear engine" in that meaning of the word. Both do have their engines in front of the rear axle though which makes them "rear mid-engine" cars, while 911 has it behind the rear axle making it true rear engine car.