NHTSA told Tesla to stop claiming its Model 3 was the safest car ever tested

August 7, 2019

Federal officials told Tesla's lawyers last year to stop claiming its Model 3 electric sedan achieved the lowest probability of injury of any car they've tested, documents revealed.

In an October letter uncovered by PlainSite through open records laws, lawyers for the NHTSA told Tesla to remove language from its website that claimed the Model 3 sedan that its tests proved that the compact sedan had the "lowest probability of injury of all cars the safety agency has ever tested."

"Frontal crash data cannot determine whether a Model 3 would fare better in a real world frontal collision with, for instance, a significantly heavier SUV. This is not without significance. ...To say that Tesla's midsize sedan has a lower probability of injury than, say, a larger SUV could be interpreted as misunderstanding safety data, in intention to mislead the public, or both," U.S. Department of Transportation Chief Counsel Jonathan Morrison wrote Oct. 17, 2018.

Morrison added that the agency would forward the claims to the Federal Trade Commission to investigate whether the claims constituted unfair or deceptive advertising.

Lawyers for Tesla shot back two weeks later and defended the company's safety claims and said that public data for NHTSA's crash tests led the company to conclude that the Model 3 statements were statistically proven.

"Tesla's blog statements are entirely based on actual test results and NHTSA's own calculations for determining relative risk of injury and probability of injury...NHTSA has rated almost 1,000 vehicles since the current NCAP began with the 2011 model year. We have compared these results to every other public test report. No vehicle has ever achieved an overall lower score," Tesla Deputy General Counsel Al Prescott wrote Oct. 31, 2018.

NHTSA has taken an issue with Tesla's claims about its tests before. In 2013, the company's tests of a Model S sedan led Tesla to claim that it was the safest car the agency had ever tested. Federal testers disagreed with the assessment and said the company ignored guidelines on referring to federal safety tests.

Tesla responded by saying that improvements in safety by other manufacturers and that more than 40 percent of new cars on sale achieving a five-star overall score led to automakers extrapolating more information from the tests to distinguish new cars from each other for shoppers.

The disputed blog by Tesla is still active on the company's page.

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