Tesla offers peek inside the Crash Lab that helped it win a safety award

The nightmare scenario for any car occupant is being involved in a smash. In that case, you want the vehicle you’re in to offer the best possible protection so that you can walk away unscathed.

Tesla’s all-electric Model 3 last year earned the Top Safety Pick+ award from the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS), and also received an excellent safety rating from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA).

This week the automaker offered a peek inside its test lab in Fremont, California, where work to enhance the vehicle’s ability to handle collisions helped it to pick up its awards.

Tesla’s so-called Crash Lab does what it says on the tin — send vehicles into walls at high speed to test and improve their safety.

For high-speed tests, a car begins its journey just over 100 meters from the wall. A propulsion system uses a steel cable that allows the team to carefully control the vehicle’s direction and speed. Sensors inside the Model 3, Model S, or whatever, along with external high-speed cameras and post-crash inspections, offer plenty of data for the team to work with.

As noted by a Tesla engineer, prep work for the physical tests begins long before a new safety feature is tested at the Crash Lab.

“Well in advance of us producing a physical prototype, we’re running thousands of [computer-based] crash simulations,” the engineer says in the video. “At the design level, we’ll produce 3D models of the parts, and we’ll simulate those using very complex and sophisticated mathematical models that represent the physics of a crash.”

Tesla says on its website that the ability of its vehicles to handle collisions effectively is partly due to the “rigid, fortified structure of the battery pack that is mounted to a car’s floor, which provides a vehicle with exceptional strength, large crumple zones, and a uniquely low center of gravity.”

It adds: “While no car can prevent all accidents, we work every day to try to make them much less likely to occur. Active safety features come standard on all Tesla vehicles made after September 2014 for an added layer of safety beyond the physical structure of each car.”

These include Tesla’s suite of Autopilot driving aids, among them forward collision warning, blind-spot collision warning, and automatic emergency braking.

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