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Safety Warning: The Model S rear seats

The last few months have been an adventure, I have reserved my Model S, completed a test drive and heard Elon Musks plans and visions for the future Tesla owners in Norway. I've read every article there is to read and all the news and updates daily. There have been exciting times for one that usually runs around in a Toyota Avensis 1.6 and who has chosen to make the quantum leap up to a Tesla Model S: EV, performance, space for the whole family and premium design ... I've been so excited!

I have a brother in law whose had the same experience. Last week we wanted to visit the Tesla Center at Alnabru and spend some time investigating the car thoroughly. Coincidentally, one of the first things we did was to put ourselves in the rear seats. My brother in law works as an emergency medical/ doctor at the Ullevaal Hospital in Oslo. He regularly treats pacients who have been victims of car accidents and experiences the impact of these enormous powers on the human body. Concerning cars, he is undoubtedly very focused on safety. So he instinctively and immediately reacted on the rear seating design of the Model S. A person aged 12-13 years, maybe 150 centimeters/ 4.9 feet tall, has no support for neck and head and will also slam his head in the supporting structures of the inner roof. No doubt this will be with a potentially fatal or very harmful outcome. The rear seat has three minimal elevations in the seatrest intended for support of the head and they can not be regulated. It reminds me of rear seats in cars of the 50s and 60s. So actually, this car is not suitable for more than two adults in front and strictly children in the back. Accordingly, I have serious concerns about letting adults sit in the backseat when driving long distances at greater speed.

American tests show that the car is at a high level of safety ( safety for rear seat passengers is hardly taken into account ), European motor journalists love it and the car is on everyone's lips. Is there really no other comments on this? Is the car otherwise so alluring that we are willing to ignore basic security flaws? If Tesla has compromised on this, in what other areas can we expect similar compromises?

It is with mixed emotions that I cancel my reservation. The Model S doesn't seem to me as a sustainable product yet when it comes to safety for all occupants. Fortunately Model X seems much better - I decide to wait for it!

It is with sincere concern for Tesla that I write this - and with the desire that they may succeed!

Yes, but only the head restraints in front, I'm afraid...

Dear oleandre,
thank you for bringing up this toping again. I followed the discussion with interest. I fully agree with the observation of your brother in law. I wrote several emails to Tesla product specialties asking if there is a chance to fix the rear seat headrests before EU delivery start. The response was always how super safe the MS without cater to the back seat passengers. From information have seen so far, there is really a lack of requirements in safety testing for back seats. Most of the tests are performed with children seats in the back.
For me it is also a deal breaker not having real protective head rest at the rear seats. Unfortunately the Model X does not fit to my garage. I also struggle with the castellation of my MS reservation, because this would have beed the first electric car I would have considered as the one car in the family, all other EV just work as a second car.

Tesla and all,
regardless of different safety perception in different cultures, countries or individuals that care less on adults or people above 150cm on the back seat. It is relevant for at least some of the potential or present reservation holders of a MS to have a protective headrests on the rear seats, best would be adjustable. There were very early prototype MS showing adjustable head rests so it should not be a magic change to the MS to satisfy those customers care about the safety of adults on the back seat.
Latest updates from Tesla are nice features and I would probably purchase them all but they are not safety relevant. Obviously those upgrades were prioritized higher than the back seat headrests - so i am glad to see this topic is back to the discussion - may be we can gain some momentum with this at least for EU version of MS.
thanks for the good discussion!

wrong. There was no rear impact assessment of rear seat occupant safety.

Could someone give me a link to photos, video or/ and reports from the MS crash test done in America? I don't know the name of the agency...

To Kleist: Since the Euroncap crash tests do not investigate the impact on passengers in the back seat, I shouldn't speculate too much in what cars are safe or not. But a as far as I know all cars sold in Norway like Volvo V70, VWs, BMWs, Toyotas, SUVs etc. ( probably also the rest of Europa ) - small or larger cars - are equipped with adjustable headrests. It seems to me that this is an absolute requirement. Hopefully, the European MS is equipped the same way.

@oleandre - at this point, why do you care? You cancelled your reservation so you can go get a Volvo instead. I have heard they are so sturdy you can drive monster trucks over them (well, as long as you stick some extra 2x4s in there and you make other cuts on the other cars so they look like they crush more).

@oleandre - I just checked our Benz... foldable, but not adjustable. On other newer cars in the parking lot I see many integrated same as MS. SUVs I didn't check.
There is no question that the MS back seats are small for an adult, I do not fit at all. I am only 6 feet, but sit very tall. In most current cars I do not have enough head room for me. E350, A6,A7, S80, etc I hit the roof in the front, rear even worse... I was so frustrated last year looking for a new car. For fun I sat in a MS in the showroom - guess what 2 inch clearance above my head in the front. Fortunately my potential passengers are relative small.

I find the back seat headrests are fine, and I'm 5'-11". My only concern would be using the child seats all the way in the back and getting rear ended. It is just not very far from the rear bumper to the seats.

All my Mercedes sedans had foldable rear headrests with a dashboard button to drop them down for improved visibility. You had to manually lift them back up. This often meant they stayed down, which was equivalent to no headrest.

I specifically bought a Model S to protect my wife and kids.

Based on the known facts and science, I believe this car reduces their risk of injury more than any other car I can buy.

The MS crumple zones are superior to any other car - including S Class, BMW 7, and A8.

The advantage is not slight. The deceleration G-force on their bodies is far better - a 3X improvement in the MS due to the superior crumple zones. This is an inescapable consequence of the physics of the much longer crumple zone.

Over the next 3 years, I believe the accident data will prove this to be fact. The MS will show a materially lower overall fatality rate for front and rear passengers than any alternative sedan now available.

To focus on a narrow modality of rear headrest stress tests, at the expense of the far more damning test of front / rear high speed collisions - this is the extreme of penny-wise and pound-foolish reasoning.

If you care about safety, you put the greatest statistical risk of death at the top of the list.

For safety, the MS is clearly the best option to protect a family, by a wide margin.

Don S;
The distance is deceptive. There is special reinforcement there. The jump seats may be the best protected parts of the car.

And I remind everyone again: high speed rear impacts are not only rare, they're quite hard to arrange.

A recent article in Norwegian newspaper about Nissan Leaf

and the headline of the article in English is somewhat "Listened to customers - enhanced 100 "weak points" in electric car".

If you browse through the pictures you will see that The Nissan Leaf has adjustable headrest.

Now if Tesla follows in same footstep and keep enhancing the MS as it's doing currently it will gain a lot more market share in the EU and elsewhere too.

Even the tiny Renault Zoé has adjustable headrests on back seats, and it is only a 20k€ car (without battery). The Renault got a 5 star euro NCAP rating, but again no adult dummies on the back see - so the rating is not for as specifically good headrests on the back seats.

@Sazzadul - the LEAF in the US has had adjustable rear headrests from the beginning. In fact, they are so big they block much of the rear view, to the point that my wife has removed them. Is that safer for a rear passenger? Now if they made the smaller like the Model S, that would have been a safety improvement, as they would actually stay in the car.

+1 Mark K

dont forget total system safety. four components-

1. g forces on occupants, tesla better.
2. penetration ridk, tesla has very thick doors and fewer mechanical components, tesla better
3. FIRE! no gas tank , tesla FAR better
4. the rear seats..... when i sit in mine, if i position myself not to touch roof, headrest is in the right spot. tesla adequate.

other factors- collision avoidance, acceleration, handling, braking, reliability should all favor the Tesla.

I cannot understand the idea of attacking a person that are trying to improve the product we are all waiting for, or owning already.

When testing the Model S in Oslo, the rear headrests was a concern for me as well. Although I have finalized the car already, I would really want adjustable headrests in the back seats. Why on earth some of you would dislike this, I cannot understand. Giving the reasoning that someone would take them out? Well - if that someone would like to make the car less safe, so be it. It would increase the safety for all the others.

To please all, the design could easily be done so that when the headrests are in low position, they would be at the same hight as those in the car today. The people that want, could then adjust them to a higher position, thus increasing their safety at their own will.

Thanks, for actually summarizing this discussion and simplifying my point: Teslas major concern should be every safety aspect of the car, including a detail like adjustable/ foldable ( and removable for some of you ) headrests. By not including this in the MS, Tesla are making a choice on behalf of it's costumers which should be given the costumers instead. I believe that Tesla has a very safe car in the MS, but unfortunately for me, they've missed one important spot. As simple, but crucial as that!

@ohh - Not sure I see any attacks - just lots of different viewpoints.

I think most of us MS owners think the MS is an extremely safe car - safer than most others available. Anyone who thinks differently is fine and they can buy another car with different risks that they perceive is better.

I do think there is quite a bit of disagreement that adjustable headrests make a car safer or not. I haven't heard anyone here that is a crash expert (and I'm not one either). If some 2-star crash rated econo box has adjustable rear head rests, does that make it better than the MS? The reasoning without any actual test results seems weird to me. And no one seems to have tested the rear seat crash worthiness effects to adults in any car (Europe or US).

All I can see is adjustable head rests might be safer or riskier for once specific kind of crash with a person of a specific height. I'm not sure I've ever seen anyone actually adjust the rear headrests in a car that has them (and I've had a few). Does that mean they are at very high risk if the headrests are adjusted wrong? Perhaps fixed headrests are far safer, since they can't be set "wrong" or removed?

Anyway, safety is important, but short of driving a tank, there are always tradeoffs. You have to decide if some unquantifiable issue is far more important to you than those that are clearly identified - and then buy the car that makes sense to you. The MS is a great car, but if you feel you need a safer car (and I don't know that there is one), go for it!


It's fine to nudge TM to add more features, like raising the rear headrests (while limiting how low they can go). That might help some people be even safer.

But if the spirit of your interest is to drive the overall safest car available, the Model S is it.

I am sure improvements will be made to MS / other cars over time, however waiting has its risks too.

If you're driving a car for the next 3 years that does not offer the significantly higher MS safety performance, you are increasing your risk.

Everything we choose logically must be ranked based on the alternatives.

In aggregate, I concluded that buying any other car, or waiting to replace my current Mercrdes cars, was higher risk.

So I bought my wife a Model S now.

For me, it was as simple as that.

I owned a 2002 VW Jetta for 10 years before getting my Model S. It had adjustable rear seat headrests. And in those 10 years not a single passenger I carried in the rear (and there were quite a few) ever adjusted the headrest. In fact the only time those headrest even moved was when I had to remove them in order to lay the seats down.

I think this issue is overblown, so either live with it or buy something else.

I have also put nearly 8000 miles on my S and no rear seat passenger has complained or even brought up the subject of the headrest.

Klaus - I never owned a car with adjustable rear seat head rests... So I have one question - did the car come with instructions how to adjust the rear head rests for best safety?
If yes, then the driver needs to adjust for every passengers the head rest ( passenger doesn't know the manual ) before starting any journey. And the question for oleandre is do the Norwegian drivers always adjust the rear head rest for every passenger before driving? Is this the common practice in Norway?
If the car doesn't come with instructions then how do we know what is the safest head rest height.

Some early betas had adjustable rear and front headrests, IIRC. So why would TM remove them?

-Rear headrests block vision, and are routinely removed;
-Rear passengers never bother to adjust them
-Fixed headrests cover the majority of people
-Rear headrests are effective in tests, but rarely used in real life;

then it was a deliberate design decision, and probably correct.

I think everyone here is missing one important point here regarding adjustable headrest is the comfort issue. Now what is the point of having headrest at all in MS when it will never reach the head height of a person of average height ? Its way too below the height of my head and can't be considered to be very useful. so why not just remove it ! Same goes with headrest of front seat where height is not an issue but the fact that I can't move it forward and backward as I can with my 5-series (I personally use it alot). Any thoughts ?

I think that headrests should be considered as one part of an overall safety system. And the overall safety of a vehicle in a crash is what is important. There have been several collisions involving Teslas and other vehicles and I believe that in all cases the people in the Tesla walked away while in many cases the people in the other cars did not - even when the other cars had adjustable headrests. So I look forward to Tesla submitting its cars for european certification and reading what additional information that provides. But with the extremely large crumple zones that dissipate the force of a collision, the Tesla has proven to be an extremely safe car to date. That said I certainly will always support changes to make it even safer.

I also own a Volvo C70. Volvo has a reputation as a very safe car, as most people are aware. Seat headrests in front are NOT adjustable, and the rear seat headreasts are NOT adjustable. Likewise headroom is low. Worse actualy. So I'm pretty calm about this all actualy.

Thanks to oleandre bringing this topic up and also for a very interesting debate on this.
I am personally only 169 cm (5'7") and was surprised about how high even I sat in the rear when testing the demo cars in Copenhagen this February.
I share the concerns about the safety with the very low rear head rest. I actually also beleive that an adjustable rear head rest would make it more comfortable for adult passangers to travel in the rear.
Just like all other Europeans I really look forward to a EURO NCAP test of the MS since after all, that will (as have pointed out) definately give the only precise answer to if the MS cope with European safety requirements or not.

Sitting or torso height varies far less than leg length. Most males measure about 70 cm from hip bones to top of head, most females 60 cm.

What is going on here? Adjustable headrests in the rear seats? Never had a car with those before.

It is highly unlikely, and probably impossible, that TM will design a completely different rear seat design to appease ONLY the European markets, and if you think they must do this for you to buy the Model S, then you should just buy a different car right now. The impracticalities of doing this are enormous to a small company trying to maintain it's production rates.

Also, unless you have hard data to suggest the rear-facing seats are unsafe, you should be careful making such assertions prematurely. The Model S has 5 star crash test ratings from NTSB, and Elon has repeatedly noted that the rear-facing seats are the 'safest seats in the car'. I imagine there is some data behind this statement, and I would be happy to see it revealed, but I certainly do not think he is lying about it.

As far as overall safety, I have little doubt that it is the safest sedan, if not the safest car, on the road today. If anyone saw the head-on collision wreckage from the very tragic fatal accident in Southern CA recently, the Model S looks as though it was barely scratched.

+1 to this thread.

Was just involved in an accident where a Corolla hit my 5-series from behind on the highway (I was standing still). The Bimmer performed very well, people in the cars in front (which I was bumped into) of me were less fortunate as their head rests were not properly adjusted.

I'm real picky when it comes to safety and I must admit that this issue was noticed immediately when sitting in the back seat. I will be ordering the park sensors and if they are as good as on the Bimmer I would gladly trade some lost rear view for better seats.

I don't really care whether the headrests are adjustable or not. If they are adjustable, then my only requirement is that either they adjust low enough to not block my vision, or don't leave an ugly seat top when I remove them. What I do object to is the title of this thread. Enough people on the forum and enough carmakers don't feel that this is a safety issue. I get angry every time I see this thread. Why not just edit the title to "some of us want adjustable headrests".

Take a pill David. I also think this is a stupid thread, but "get angry"? Seriously?

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