After a spate of crashes involving drivers using Tesla’s Autopilot system, the press is awash in speculation about its effectiveness.
Now the IIHS, which rates accident avoidance systems across many automakers, has given Tesla’s system an official rating: “Superior.”
The IIHS gives three ratings for forward collision avoidance systems:
- It verifies whether car has a forward collision warning system that meets the standards of the NHTSA, with an adequate alert to the driver when the crash is imminent. Cars that meet the requirement get one point.
- It tests the car in a 12 mph crash scenario, where the car approaches a stationary target at 12 mph. If the system stops the car before hitting the target, or reduces its speed “significantly,” the IIHS awards two more points.
- Then it repeats the second test at 25 mph and awards an additional three points if the car avoids a collision or reduces the impact speed sufficiently to lower the risk of injury.
The Model 3 with Autopilot received the maximum of six points in the three tests, earning the system a “Superior” rating.
A score of one point earns a rating of “Basic” for the collision warning test, a score of three rates “Advanced,” and a score of six rates “Superior.”
In response to criticisms of the Autopilot system, Tesla CEO Elon Musk said that cars are much safer with the system than without it, and that it would be morally irresponsible to disable the system because of few crashes.
The IIHS tests, combined with the Institute’s crash data, would seem to confirm that position.
Compared with other forward collision avoidance systems from other automakers, the IIHS tests show the Tesla Model 3 with Autopilot is among the best.
The fatal Autopilot crashes occurred at significantly higher speeds than the IIHS tests are designed to simulate. In a crash last week in Utah, a Tesla Model S traveling 60 mph hit the back of a firetruck, but the driver’s injuries were limited to a broken ankle.
Such automatic emergency braking is an important safety feature, but it does not constitute an autonomous driving system that would allow a driver to relinquish control of the car. Such systems require many more sensors to avoid collisions at much higher speeds and in a wider variety of conditions.