The thought of owning a self-driving featured car sounds nifty. Imagine being able to do work on your way to work, or even summon your car in a parking lot to come pick you up from the front of the restaurant. This all sounds incredible. However, there has been controversy over the Tesla Model 3 with the autopilot feature. Is the Tesla Model 3 safe? Let’s take an objective look at what is available on the subject so you can determine if you believe that the Tesla’s Model 3 is worth the touted reduced starting price of $36,200.00.

Car and Driver Magazine

Car and Driver magazine reported in December of 2019 that Tesla’s 2019 Model 3 received a perfect 5-star score and the car was named a Top Safety Pick Plus by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. This is the first time Tesla has received the 5-star rating on any of their vehicles by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. However, Car and Driver noted that the term autopilot feature might be misleading”.


It should be noted that Car and Driver magazine stated the Tesla Model 3 has one of the best driver’s assists in the industry with features such as automatic lane change, standard automated emergency braking, standard lane departure warning and standard adaptive cruise control. The Smart Summon feature of the enabled advance autopilot will start the Model 3 through the Tesla app and allow the car to drive at a slow speed to the location of the driver’s smartphone in a parking lot. This technology is still in the trial and error phase, however as with all new things, once the current batch of issues have been resolved, the potential applications could change driving as we know it forever.

What are the Tesla’s Safety Features?

The anti-lock brakes installed standard on the Tesla Model 3 will automatically sense when a tire has stopped rotating under extreme braking and will modulate the brake pressure to allow the tire to rotate. This increases the vehicles ability to turn while braking thereby enabling the driver to avoid a collision.

The multiple airbags featured on the Tesla Model 3 Front-impact airbags for the driver and passenger have been designed to protect the head during a frontal crash. The side-impact airbags that are installed in the Model 3 are designed to protect the torso during a side impact collision. But what really makes Tesla stand out from other vehicles when it comes to airbags is the revolutionary overhead airbags they have. Overhead airbags are designed to protect the occupants head in case of side collision or rollover accident and the knee airbags are designed to protect the lower extremities from serious injury in the event of an accident. This could potentially set a new standard for vehicle safety.

The autopilot feature with the 360-degree rear, side, and forward-facing cameras that provide the maximum amount of visibility. The Model 3 also features a forward-facing radar that provides long range view of distant objects up to 160 meters distant. The Model 3 also comes standard with 12 ultrasonic sensors that detect nearby cars to help prevent potential collisions and assist with parking.

However, as nice as these features are, do they earn the Tesla Model 3 the honor of being the safest car on the road today?

Tesla Accidents

There have been several reports of Tesla Accidents involving the Tesla Model 3 being while using the Autopilot feature. One common theme between many of these accidents is that the physical occupant of the vehicle did not have their hands on the steering wheel during the accident.  Examples of these include:

  • According to an article released on December 9, 2019 from the Detroit Associated Press, a Tesla Model 3 on Autopilot crashed into a Police car. According to the article, the police car was stationary behind a broken-down vehicle waiting for a tow truck to arrive. The driver of the Tesla Model 3 had placed the vehicle on Autopilot and took his hands off the wheel so he could check on his dog in the back seat.
  • According to an article released by ABC News on May 17,2019, the Autopilot feature of a Tesla Model 3 was engaged when the vehicle drove beneath a semi-trailer in Florida, killing the driver. The vehicle did not detect the driver’s hands on the steering wheel for the final eight seconds before the crash.

However, one can argue that Tesla’s autopilot is not the real issue here since the Tesla website and instruction manuals are quite clear that the autopilot feature is: “intended for use only with a fully attentive driver who has their hands on the wheel and is prepared to take over at any time.”  In other words, the current version of the autopilot feature does make the Tesla Model 3  a driverless car. Perhaps people are not ready for an autopilot feature that is not a complete substitute for an alert driver. Or, perhaps, the convenience of not having to do the navigation at all times is lulling people into losing their focus.

Concluding Thoughts

Elon Musk has created an electric car that is finally within the price range of most contemporary automobiles seen on the road today. For form and function, the car appears to deliver what Tesla drivers are wanting however, the autopilot feature and the Smart Summon appear to still be works in progress. More development is clearly needed before total hands-free driving is a reality. So, is the Tesla Model 3 safe? Well, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration does not arbitrarily hand out five-star safety picks. They are earned. The car clearly has some great safety features like the overhead airbags that could change the industry standard. I guess the real question is, can the driver keep both hands on the wheel during operation of the vehicle and remember that “autopilot” does not mean “hands free.”

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Karen Sears

I graduated from Tomball Memorial High School in 2019 and earned my Paralegal Certificate from the University of Texas in the Summer of 2019. Currently, I am a Criminal Justice major at Sam Houston State University. I plan to go to Law School when I graduate.