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Telsa 'record' makes NHTSA ratings stricter

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Paul Sakuma/AP/File

(Read caption) Tesla CEO Elon Musk walks past the Tesla Model S after a news conference at the Tesla factory in Fremont, Calif. last year. In response to Tesla press release stating the Model S sedan had achieved a 5.4 out of 5 safety rating, the NHTSA has tightened up its safety rules.

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Over the summer, Tesla tried to create a new safety ratings system for its Model S sedan. In case you missed it, the automaker issued a press release that said:

NHTSA does not publish a star rating above 5, however safety levels better than 5 stars are captured in the overall Vehicle Safety Score (VSS) provided to manufacturers, where the Model S achieved a new combined record of 5.4 stars.

Now in fairness, the Model S did perform very well -- in fact, it broke some of the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration's equipment during the testing process.

But NHTSA wasn't down with Tesla's creative math -- not by a long shot. In fact, it did everything but send CEO Elon Musk a cease-and-desist letter taped to a horse's head. In a statement, the agency said that it has plenty of guidelines for advertisers who want to tout their safety scores, and for Tesla to create a completely fictitious "5.4" rating was a direct violation of those rules.

And now, to drive that point home, NHTSA has published a new, stricter set of rules aimed at whippersnappers like Tesla. In a press release, the agency says:

The updated guidelines now explicitly state that ratings are always whole numbers and that NHTSA does not award a rating higher than 5 stars. Manufacturers or advertising agencies, therefore, should not advertise ratings with decimal points or ratings over 5 stars, and advertisers who claim more than 5 stars are misleading the public. The guidelines also clarify that advanced technologies are not part of the star ratings. Advertisements that do not conform to these guidelines may result in "Buyer Alert" warnings, removal from the ratings program or referral to other federal or state authorities for appropriate action.

Which can be paraphrased thusly (read it in your best schoolmarm voice): "Apparently, some of you can't be trusted with a calculator (gives Elon Musk the side-eye), so we're clarifying our penalties for bad math. The next time someone feels the urge to get inventive with mathematics, we'll send the entire class to detention for a month." 

If you (or any of your automaker friends) would like to peruse the new guidelines, you can download a handy PDF here.


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