On Aug. 19, Tesla announced it had the safest car in America with the 2013 Model S, which earned the top score, five stars, across six different crash tests from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. Just 1% of cars tested earn five stars across all six grades, Tesla said, and the agency's overall vehicle safety score, which automakers receive from the agency, captures a rating above five stars — in this case, 5.4 stars. That makes the Model S the safest car ever tested by NHTSA under its tougher 2011 standards, Tesla said.
The Model S earns an overall vehicle safety score of 0.42 (lower is better), which beats other five-star cars like the Buick Verano (0.5) and Cadillac ATS (0.53) sedans. Tesla says that translates to 5.4 stars. But NHTSA demurred: "NHTSA does not rate vehicles beyond five stars and does not rank or order vehicles within the starred categories," the agency said in a statement to The New York Times. What's more, a number of other cars — from the ATS to the Honda Accord coupe — also get five stars across the board.
Dig into the details, and the stars reflect assessments of specific crash data — the individual readouts from various sensors on a crash-test dummy. Tesla argues, for example, that the Model S beats the Volvo S60 sedan (another car with five NHTSA stars across the board) because it preserved more driver space in NHTSA's side-pole test.