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Tesla Model S and BMW i3 fall short of IIHS Top Safety Pick+

Both vehicles missed the accolade thanks to mediocre marks in various categories.


This year, more than three dozen vehicles received Top Safety Pick+ from the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety. The Tesla Model S and BMW i3 were not among that group.

Both the Model S and i3 fell short of the IIHS' top accolade. In order to be eligible for TSP+, vehicles must score "Good" in all five crash tests, and they must also contain some degree of forward crash protection.

Tesla missed the mark in two different ways, actually. First, it only received a score of "Acceptable" in the difficult small overlap front test, which mimics contacting a telephone pole or similar. The IIHS report states that the Model S' seatbelt allowed the dummy to move too far forward during the crash, and its head hit the steering wheel through the airbag.

Crash tests are sort of oddly satisfying to watch, knowing nobody is being hurt and it's all in the interest of improving safety.

IIHS Youtube screencap

Its headlights were also rated "Poor," but Tesla claims it's working with suppliers to remedy that. Finally, some of its vehicles still lack an activated forward crash protection system, even though it comes standard, which is another requirement for TSP+. These issues will be a bit easier to fix than the ones related to actual crash tests.

BMW came much closer to TSP+. Its only failing was a score of "Acceptable" in a test that measures the effectiveness of head restraints and seats. The IIHS report notes that while these types of injuries are rarely fatal, they can still cause a whole lot of pain. The Bimmer received a passing score of "Acceptable" for its headlights, and its autonomous emergency braking system earned the "Advanced" rating.

While both vehicles may have fallen short this year, there's always next year. When a car receives updates to its crashworthiness, the IIHS will retest the vehicle and update its score. In fact, Tesla recently lengthened the side curtain airbags in order to improve performance in the small-overlap front crash test, but it obviously wasn't enough.

For what it's worth, Tesla sounds committed to changing its vehicles quickly. "We proactively develop updates and aggressively implement changes onto the production line in record time any time there is a substantial benefit to customer safety," a Tesla spokesperson said via email. "One of the improvements recently introduced in January 2017 specifically addresses the "Acceptable" (or second highest) rating that the Model S achieved in the small overlap frontal crash test, and we expect new tests to yield the highest possible rating ("Good" rating) in the crashworthiness category." It also promised to send a vehicle to IIHS that has its front crash protection enabled.

The IIHS is an independent organization that runs its own crash tests, independent of the government. The traditional star ratings you see on window stickers are federal crash tests, which don't go as in-depth as the IIHS tests do. Automakers are under no mandate to improve vehicles for IIHS crash testing, but the tests carry enough weight (at least from a marketing standpoint) that many automakers update vehicles to achieve higher scores.

Update, 11:45 a.m. Eastern: Added manufacturer comment.