Tesla’s redesign of the Model 3 has now been unveiled in many markets, featuring the removal of several components — notably including the removal of a shifting stalk.
Since the announcement, however, some have also spotted that Tesla may have removed a front-seat airbag from the design, leaving some onlookers with questions.
Earlier this week, Reddit u/Capital-Pomegranate6 noticed that the new Model 3 doesn’t include a knee airbag for front-seat passengers, as spotted in the French owner’s manual. Interestingly, the manual also shows that the design has an additional airbag inside the driver’s seat, which appears to be the same one noticed in China-built Model Y units last year.
Some users responded that the design could be region-based, depending on what airbags are available in certain countries. Others said that U.S. regulations may require knee airbags while European countries don’t. However, u/Capital-Pomegranate6 reiterated that their Model 3 does include the knee airbags, though others outside of North America pointed out that theirs didn’t.
In any case, it seems clear from the U.S. owner’s manual (and those of other North American countries) that pre-refresh Model 3 builds include knee airbags. The new Model 3 design is not yet on sale in the United Kingdom, however, and you can see in their owner’s manual that the older European-shipped models also did not include a knee airbag.
It’s not clear as of yet whether the new Model 3 will include the knee airbags in the U.S. or other North American countries. Currently, there aren’t any markets with knee airbags in their owner’s manual.
Still, it’s entirely possible that Tesla could remove the knee airbags in 2024 Model 3 builds in North America, especially if they aren’t deemed necessary. Capital-Pomegranate6 also points out that the European New Car Assessment Programme (EuroNCAP) conducts thorough safety testing of new cars. As such, Tesla could simply prioritize the inner driver’s seat airbag as more critical, especially if it still meets North American safety standards.
In 2019, the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) published an article stating that researchers found knee airbags could have “a negligible effect on injury risk,” even making injuries more likely in some cases. The accompanying study showed that knee airbags decreased injury risks from 7.9 percent to 7.4 percent in a real-world analysis. The 0.5-percent drop was “not statistically significant,” according to the IIHS.
“There are many different design strategies for protecting against the kind of leg and foot injuries that knee airbags are meant to address,” said Becky Mueller, IIHS senior research engineer and co-author of the study. “Other options may be just as, if not more, effective.”
The IIHS also acknowledges that some manufacturers have continued building cars with knee airbags. Despite their potentially marginal effects, the organization adds that automakers could be using knee airbags to target high scores on federally mandated tests, and specifically those requiring dummies to be unbelted.