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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!

I agree with your concerns. Quite a few users of the German Tesla forum share your assessment and have asked tough questions to Tesla staff concerning this safety aspect, some of them won't buy Model S as long as this is not addressed by Tesla.

Since Tesla has proved they are listening to our ideas, I think all of us should let Tesla know we think their back seats could be better. I'm pretty confident that sooner or later they'll redesign the back seats.

I have ordered my S already nonetheless.

"A person aged 12-13 years, maybe 150 centimeters/ 4.9 feet tall..." And taller, of course...

Or you could just make the rear headrests tall and adjustable, where they block the driver's vision and wind up getting removed -- such as my wife did when she started driving the LEAF.

I'm not sure why you would be more worried about driving at speed -- if there is an issue with insufficiently tall headrests, it would be in the case of a rear collision. If you are driving on the highway, the speed difference with some car hitting you in the rear is not likely to be as high as if you are sitting stopped at traffic light and someone isn't paying attention. So, if you are worried, *that* is where you should be worried -- not at high speeds where the likely accelerations come from hitting things and rapidly slowing you down, throwing you forward not back.

Honest feedback about safety is something I have missed in this forum. Thanks.
I had some of the same feeling when I tried the rear seats. My opinion is that the car is built for 2 adults , and kids.
Its not a deal breaker for me, but if I dont see a EuroNcap test result soon, I will not finalize..

Lets hope the EU version gets "normal" seats with better side support and adjustable active headrests
At least on the front seats..
The seats is also to hard, and this might also cause more injuries in collisions when your body slams back into it.
New science proves this.

Completely agree, I noticed this when my 8 year old is in a booster seat in the rear seat...the three back headrests should absolutely be adjustable.

It doesn't bother me, but then rarely is anyone in the back seat!

It seems many cars in the US that offer adjustable rear headrests, find them quickly removed since they block the rear view, which seems like an even poorer safety situation. Having fixed headrests could be even safer in general if they can't be removed.

Not sure why Europeans would be any different in general. I do like it when users actually keep the safety equipment they paid for. Glad to see a those here are looking at safety and how to maximize it.

Keep in mind the MS is dramatically better at protecting the occupants than most other cars on the market. With a huge front and rear crumple zones, I feel a lot safer than ICE cars with a engine that's going to be joining me in an accident. The rear seat headrest issue (if an issue) seems a lot less of a worry.

+1 teslatap. rear visibility and collision avoidance~ active safety~ is better than passive safety.

the back roofline is low so if i sy
it where my head misses roof, rear headrest is at the right spot. i do wish the rear roofline was a couoke inches higher but i love the car. i am glad i bought it.

I'm confused by this. Apologies since I seem to be the only one but - what exactly is the issue? That the headrests in the second row seats (not the rear facing child seats) are too low for an adult/teenager?

How are other cars different? Because they have adjustable headrests in the rear? And do people in the rear seats often end up adjusting those headrests? I never thought about headrests on way or a other, before. I've certainly never adjusted a read seat headrest for anything other than comfort, if at all.

Is this not something that would show up in standard US safety testing?

Thanks for helping me understand.

This whole issue is blown way out of proportion. Some people are overly cautious and probably afraid to walk out their front door in the morning.

I Read this thread and had to go out and sit in the back seat of my S... I am 6'5" tall so my head makes contact with the headliner when I sit up straight, at the same time the headrest hits the back of my head over the occipital cortex which is approximately the balance point of the mass of my head... The perfect position to support the head in the event of an accident (from the rear which is the primary purpose of a headrest). If the head is supported higher or lower it will create greater stresses on the neck than if it is supported at the midpoint. As I slouch down (simulating a shorter person) the contact point on my head remains much the same. Seems to me the engineers at Tesla got it right!

As for the head making contact with the sides of the roof, it is better to have a close contact with it than have room for your head to accelerate before it hits... Think getting hit by a hammer from one inch as opposed to a hammer swung over a larger distance.

In my opinion there is no issue here. I would like to hear the opinion of someone from the NHTSA, or with experience in design of safe cars... I'm guessing Tesla has some of them on it's design team.

I think we should just let the NTSB do their jobs.

Wow, What gives? I was under the impression that the model S was the safest car on the planet. I will take my chances for my family with the Model S,(and not let any tall folks ride in the back). But give up my model S, not a remote chance!!!

Seems like, for the 2 front passengers and children in the back, the Model S is probably one of the safer sedans out there. However, as the Norwegian gentleman has pointed out, I don't think the US has strict safety standards or testing for rear seat passengers. And judging by the number of cars that don't even satisfy the 2 passenger requirement for HOV or car pool lanes, I imagine that's going to be more than adequate 99% of the time. Here in the US, we don't actually car pool much, nor do we have occasion to have adults in the back seat very often.

It's entirely possible that the Norwegian poster is correct. And, it's entirely possible that there are many other American cars on the road with the same defect that are simply going unnoticed. I'd prefer the back seats to be as safe as possible. As comfortable too, as I've already commented on this forum in the past about the less than luxury class comfort of the back seasts. But I'm certainly not going to give up my Model S while I wait for that to happen.

I totally agree with the initiator of this post. I actually had a post in this forum regarding the rear seat and comfort(its too low for adults).

I have now decided not to go for a MS (unless they fix the rear seat).

May be Model X will be a better choice for me but the falcon wings seem to be so impractical.

Hi all,

Just to support the original initiator of the post; I agree with his observations. Through a call with Tesla, I also addressed several security issues.
The first is the 'fixed' headrest at the front seats. I am 189cm, which is not that tall, but seem to have a long body. So headrests have always been a problem with me. Only my BMW's and a Mercedes E I had before were sufficient.
The second issue had to do with the headrests in the back. Now, funny enough on the interior pictures on the Tesla site these headrests seem adjustable...... (but they were not when I sat in the car earlier).
The third security question was about ISOFIX adapters in the backseat for children seats.

The response I got from Tesla was that I was not the first person complaining about these issue's.
And they told me that Tesla is looking for solutions. They even stated that the Model S would not be certified for the European market if they would keep it in the US version.

As a final remark, I would like to say that it is everybody's personal right to have an opinion on car safety, but if you were ever involved in a serious car accident or professionally have to deal with the victims (especially children) you get a little bid fanatic about it :-)

Ciao; Jack

The Model S is a performance car, therefore the rear seats are not ment for tall people. With 6'3 I'd also hit the roof first with whatever good ar bad that will do to me. Also the design of the car does have a really bad view backwards. That's why the back camera comes standard. So adjustable headrests will have not a great effect on visability and would make it much safer for medium sized people...

I seem to recall in an E-Class taxi that the rear headrests hinged up automatically when the seat was occupied, then disappeared when you got out. seems a good solution.

I would concurr with others, I am missing one rear headrest in my car (took it out to fold the seats down, never put it back) and I don't think i've ever bothered to adjust one when sitting in the back of a car.

Thank you for your answers and comments! Here are my reflections and further questions:

stimyg wrote:
«Is this not something that would show up in standard US safety testing?»

My comment: If some American owners could update me on test results regarding passengers in the back seat, I would greatly appreciate it.

TeslaTap.com wrote:
«It seems many cars in the US that offer adjustable rear headrests, find them quickly removed since they block the rear view, which seems like an even poorer safety situation. Having fixed headrests could be even safer in general if they can't be removed.»

My comment: Well, you might be right. However, I think you're changing the premise of this discussion. My focus is what kind of product is Tesla handing over to their customers - not what people decide to do on their own risk. The condition must be proper use of the equipment. A child restraint may also be a death trap if not used properly. I am not satisfied with an solution which is "safer in general" - it should be the best in every way.

jat@jaet.org
«if there is an issue with insufficiently tall headrests, it would be in the case of a rear collision»

My comment: I totally agree. I am 188cm / 6'2 tall. Sitting in the back seats and in case of rear collision, the headrests would not do their intended job. In the Oslo test car, not even making a movement from the seat, I was able to bend my neck backwards, hitting the roof structure behind my head. Headrests also have an important function in conjunction with front and side impacts, since they should provide support when the body is «thrown back» into the seat by the seatbelt.

brandtlings@gma... wrote: 
«The perfect position to support the head in the event of an accident (from the rear which is the primary purpose of a headrest). If the head is supported higher or lower it will create greater stresses on the neck than if it is supported at the midpoint. As I slouch down (simulating a shorter person) the contact point on my head remains much the same. Seems to me the engineers at Tesla got it right!
As for the head making contact with the sides of the roof, it is better to have a close contact with it than have room for your head to accelerate before it hits... Think getting hit by a hammer from one inch as opposed to a hammer swung over a larger distance.»

My comment: I'm no expert in this area, but let me make a purely logical reasoning. Modern cars are equipped with headrests and curtain airbags. The simple intention is that the head should hit a material that reduces injuries. The Model S has a lower cabin than comparable sedans and adults will find that their head will hit something hard, namely the roofstructures behind and next to the head. A low headrest does not make the situation better. I've seen some Model S images where headrests differ from those you'll see in the Norwegian test car. But as far as I know, American owners can confirm that these are not adjustable? I am aware that in many smaller and poorer cars, you cannot expect good conditions in terms of safety in the back seat, your head will hit hard materials. But we are talking about "the best car in the world ... And, as Tesla themselves put it: It is not just a performance car, but intended as a family car. "Your number one car". Well, in my opinion it's just not good enough. Actually, we shouldn't be having this discussion at all if the car, from a safety point of view, was good enough.

I carry adults in the rear seats <<1% of the time.
The model S is a poor choice for you if this is a common thing for you. The pano roof makes it more comfortable, but no more safe.
My last car had even smaller non adjustable rear headrests.
Of the things I am concerned with in a vehicle this is near the bottom. I think the frunk crumple zone/rigid battery pack makes the S much safer than most cars for rear or front collisions. (see Honda vs. Tesla thread)

@oleanadre - so if you think it isn't good enough, you are perfectly safe now that you have cancelled your reservation. I have heard that you can buy armored vehicles - those should protect you from most accidents.

For me, I am very happy with my Model S and I think it is far safer than any vehicle I have owned.

Dear jat@jaet.org!

Since the back seats are carrying the people I love the most, whether it's my teenage children, my parents or even my mother in law (!), I won't compromise on this. The car doesnt't have to be armored, I'll be satisfied with a safety level that occurs in most sedans of today, whether it's Japaneese, American or German. You are probably right; the Model S is one of the safest cars on earth, except for those sitting in the back seat.

Somwhere I read that Model S will have modified seats for EU market. I'm not sure if they thought rear or front seats...

@oleandre "Model S is one of the safest cars on earth, except for those sitting in the back seat."

Not sure I agree about the back seat (but you could be right). I think the much higher risk for rear passengers is getting a cabin intrusion from another object (car, tree, etc.). Here is where I think the MS is far safer than other sedans. So what you may be saying is under some specific type of low speed crash event the rear seat occupants might be less safe than some other car due to whiplash effects. Of course many cars may be far riskier for the back seat than the MS in all crash events - we really don't know.

I guess we'll be unable to say more until some type of rear-seat crash testing is done, but I'm not aware of any such tests done for the US market. Perhaps Europe has required tests for this. That said, if the rear seat low-speed crash safety is your #1 concern, and you don't have any more data, and don't care about the front passengers, I guess you better go with a car that has the published rear seat crash data. I don't think we'll see data, good or bad, for the MS for quite a while.

If anyone here is an expert in auto safety and has Model S crash test data, please speak up. If not, this thread is long on uninformed opinion and short on facts.

I agree with Brandtling. I am 6 foot exactly and if I sit tall in the back seat my head also touched the headliner. I don't plan on sitting in the back of the car, but if I did, I would do the same thing that I do when I sit in the back seat of a Camry: I slide my butt forward so I don't hit the roof (which it does in a Camry). when in that position, maybe an inch or two lower than my 6 feet, the headrest supports my head well. I don't see the issue unless the OP is thinking of an oblique crash. In that case, you will probably miss the headrest altogether. I found the greater danger was from headrest that block rear vision. I had that in my Trailblazer. The were always folded doen, unless I had passengers. Then the passengers blocked my rear vision.

I intend to drive mine from the front seat (driver side).

I guess the thing to look at is the couple of accidents that have occurred to date. One T-bone in Seattle, the head on collision in Southern Cal. and one other head on collision. So far, the car has performed incredibly well. These concerns are appropriate but nothing to date has suggested the safety feature of the car are not doing their job but I agree, we need to watch for actual data to validate this concern.

@oleandre - in your perception what car has safe back seats? An example would help the discussion.

The crash dummies didn't complain.


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