The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) awarded the Tesla Model 3 its Top Safety Pick+ status, recommending it as one of the safest cars in its class. However, now that Tesla is removing radar sensors from its cars, the IIHS has announced that it is taking the Model 3 off the Top Safety Pick list because without radar, it no longer has forward collision warning capabilities, Autonomous Emergency Braking (AEB) or lane departure warning.
This affects all Model 3 and Model Y vehicles built starting on April 27 of this year and both the IIHS, as well as Consumer Reports (CR) are adjusting these vehicles’ ratings on their sites to reflect the changes. CR points out that in order for a vehicle to earn its Top Pick distinction, a vehicle
Must be recommended and have standard FCW and AEB with pedestrian detection. Without standard AEB and FCW, the Model 3’s Overall Score also drops from 78 to 75 and the Tesla Model Y—which was not a recommended vehicle—drops from 50 to 47. Even with the drop in Overall Score, the Model 3 is still recommended.
Jake Fisher, senior director of CR’s Auto Test Center, explains that
It is extremely rare for an automaker to remove safety features from a vehicle during a production run, even temporarily, but this isn’t the first time that Tesla has done this. With over-the-air updates, Tesla can add and remove features on their vehicles over time. We update our scores when key features are added or removed.
Tesla’s argument in all this is that its new camera-based Tesla Vision system doesn’t need radar any more. This obviously sounds like a stretch, given the fact that Tesla is essentially giving the car fewer means with which to gauge what’s around it, but the manufacturer would be keen to point out that thanks to machine learning, it now does the same functions via what is called a neural network (basically just a fancy name for a series of algorithms that tries to mimic a human brain).
We’ll have to wait and see when and if the manufacturer issues an official statement on this matter, even though it’s clear removing radar has negative consequences. The ones Tesla officially mentions are a 75 mph limit for the Autosteer feature, an increase in the minimum follow distance, while Smart Summon and Emergency Lane Departure Avoidance may be disabled when new owners will initially receive their vehicles. The manufacturer says these features will be subsequently reenabled through OTA updates.