Tesla’s Model 3 earns top safety award

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The Tesla Model 3 earned the coveted Top Safety Pick Award from the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety.

The Model 3 is only the second all-electric vehicle to receive the award. The first was the Audi E-Tron electric SUV.

The Institute also announced that the Hyundai Nexo had become the first hydrogen fuel cell vehicle to earn the award. Hydrogen fuel cell vehicles are electric, but get their power from hydrogen gas rather than batteries.

“Vehicles with alternative powertrains have come into their own,” the Institute’s chief research officer David Zuby said in a statement. “There’s no need to trade away safety for a lower carbon footprint when choosing a vehicle.”

The Chevrolet Bolt EV didn’t get the award because its headlights earned a “poor” rating for producing too much glare, the Institute said.

Tesla’s Model 3 already has a five-star score from the federal government’s National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, but the Insurance Institute is a private group financed by auto insurers. The Insurance Institute puts cars through its own battery of crash tests that are different from those mandated by the government. The Institute also rates cars for headlight performance and for the amount and type of safety technology each model offers.

To earn the Top Safety Pick Award, a vehicle must earn top ratings in each of four different crash tests and at least an “acceptable” rating in a fifth crash test, called the passenger side small overlap test. Also, a vehicle must have headlights that are rated at least “acceptable” and it must be available with crash prevention technologies rated at least “advanced” or “superior.”

Even with all these requirements, the Model 3 is hardly alone in getting this award. In all, 48 car, truck and SUV models have received it.

The Institute tested the Tesla Model S, Tesla’s larger, more expensive sedan, in 2017. It failed to earn the award because it didn’t perform well enough on one of the crash tests and it earned a “poor” rating for its headlights.

Both cars got top ratings from NHTSA based on government-mandated crash tests. Tesla recently received a public rebuke from NHTSA, however, for using that crash data to say that the Model 3 was the safest car ever tested. NHTSA objected to that claim, saying that crash test results can only be compared to vehicles of similar size and weight.