Take Tesla safety claims with about a pound of salt

This morning when giving a talk to a group of automotive safety engineers I was once again asked what I thought of Tesla claims that they are safer than all the other vehicles. Since I have not heard that discussed in a while, it bears repeating why that claim should be taken with many pounds of salt (i.e., it seems to be marketing puffery).

(1) Crash testing is not the only predictor of real-world outcomes. And I’d prefer my automated vehicle to not crash in the first place, thank you!  (Crash tests have been historically helpful to mature the industry, but have become outdated in the US: https://www.consumerreports.org/car-safety/federal-car-crash-testing-needs-major-overhaul-safety-advocates-say/)

(2) All data I’ve seen to date, when normalized (see Noah Goodall’s paper: https://lnkd.in/dEX3GDGd) suggests that any steering automation safety gains (e.g., Level 2 autopilot) are approximately negated by driver complacency. That is for all brands, including Tesla, but Tesla’s driver monitoring is at the back of the pack per multiple sources.

(3) Any true safety improvement for Tesla is good to have, but is much more likely due to comparison against an “average” vehicle (12 years old in the US) which is much less safe than any recent high-end vehicle regardless of manufacturer, and probably not driven on roads as safe on average as where Teslas are more popular. If there is a hero here it is AEB, not Autopilot.

(4) If you look at IIHS insurance data, Tesla does not rate in the top 10 in any category. So in practical outcomes they are not anywhere near number one. When I did the comparison last year I found out a new Tesla was about the same as my 10-year-old+ Volvo based on insurance outcomes. (Which I have since sold to get a vehicle with newer safety features). That suggests their safety outcomes are years behind the market leaders in safety.  IIHS Link: https://lnkd.in/g3spV8cq

(5) The NHTSA report claiming autopilot was safer was thoroughly debunked: https://www.thedrive.com/tech/26455/nhtsas-flawed-autopilot-safety-study-unmasked