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IIHS tests raise questions about Tesla Model S safety claims

Electric cars like the Nissan Leaf and the Chevrolet Bolt are becoming an increasingly common sight in California and around the country, and many consumers choose these vehicles as much for their safety features as their modest operating costs. The Palo Alto-based electric carmaker Tesla has lauded its range-topping Model S as the safest vehicle ever offered for sale, but this was not the conclusion drawn by researchers at the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety after subjecting the luxury sedan to a grueling series of crash tests.

The IIHS put six full-sized sedans through five different crash reconstruction tests, and the Tesla Model S was one of three that failed to secure a place on the group's list of America's safest cars. The Ford Taurus and the Chevrolet Impala were also denied a place on the coveted IIHS list. The Mercedes-Benz E-Class, the Lincoln Continental and the Toyota Avalon performed well in all five tests according to an IIHS report, and the organization has added the German, American and Japanese sedans to its safest vehicles list.

The Tesla, Chevrolet and Ford were all denied a place on the IIHS list because they did not perform well during the small overlap front test. This accident simulation replicates the damage caused by a collision between a vehicle's front corner and an object like a utility pole or traffic sign. The Ford and Chevrolet were criticized because damage sustained by the crash test dummy used in their tests suggested that human drivers could have suffered leg or head injuries, and the Tesla failed the test because its seat belts were not deemed strong enough to fully protect the test dummy.

Crash tests like those conducted by the IIHS can improve automobile safety systems, and they may also provide experienced personal injury attorneys with evidence that could be used to establish reckless behavior in car crash lawsuits. Photographs taken immediately after these tests have been concluded show how much damage is done when vehicles crash at different speeds, and these images can be compared to pictures taken at car accident scenes to determine how fast the vehicles involved were traveling.

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