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Tesla’s Safety Score system could result in unsafe driving: Consumer Reports

Credit: Tesla Inc.

Tesla’s Safety Score system may be designed to encourage drivers to operate their vehicles in a very cautious manner, but according to Consumer Reports, the newly-introduced metric could actually make the roads less safe. While the gamification of safe driving behavior could work, the magazine argued that Tesla’s Safety Scores could also incentivize drivers to cheat the system to gain a high rating. 

Kelly Funkhouser, head of automated and connected vehicle testing at Consumer Reports, noted that when she and her team tested the Safety Score system on their Tesla Model Y, they constantly ended up exceeding the metric’s “Hard Braking” metric. Avoiding such hard braking scenarios resulted in Consumer Reports’ testers coasting through an intersection or failing to come to a complete stop for a pedestrian. 

“The problem is that Tesla appears to be using some of the wrong metrics. Without more context, the data Tesla is collecting, and scoring could create bad incentives,” Funkhouser said. 

Jake Fisher, senior director of Consumer Reports’ auto test center, added that the gamification of the Safety System could bring some positive benefits, and it could motivate drivers to adopt good driving habits. Fisher, however, noted that gamification also has a “dark side,” which was observed by researchers at Ohio State University. When teachers at the university added gamification to the classroom, the students ended up being more likely to cheat to win rewards. 

The same could happen to Tesla’s Safety Score, according to the CR auto test center director. With the Safety Score system the way it is today, drivers may simply end up being encouraged to find alternative ways to get a high rating. “Drivers want access to the so-called Full Self-Driving software that they’ve already paid up to $10,000 for, so they may be willing to game the system to get a score that’s good enough,” Fisher said. 

Granted, Tesla’s Safety Scores are still in their early stages, and Elon Musk himself has noted that the system is still very much a beta calculation today. Musk did note that Safety Scores should evolve over time to accurately predict crash probability. Funkhouser, for her part, suggested that Tesla should optimize its Safety Score metrics as soon as possible. She also suggested adding other metrics to the Safety Score system, such as vehicle speed. 

“Tesla vehicles, more than most other cars on the road, can obtain the context of a drive—why a driver hits the brakes, whether a light is about to turn, what road conditions are like—but the safety score ignores that. Hitting the brakes to avoid a cyclist or a pedestrian doesn’t make you a bad driver,” she said. 

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Tesla’s Safety Score system could result in unsafe driving: Consumer Reports
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