I Think Tesla’s “Safety Score” Has Increased Safe Driving Significantly

I’ve been driving my Tesla Model 3 around for a week and a half with Tesla tracking my every move and scoring me on my braking, turning, following, and more. My Safety Score Beta has been sitting at 99 for days despite my impatience at getting it up to 100. I’m obsessing over how I brake, how I take turns, how closely I follow other cars, and whether or not to turn on Autopilot at different points along my routes. I’ll talk about each of these in a moment, but first want to highlight a broad discussion that’s been going on about it all.

Some people quickly took jokes from Tesla drivers who have been going through this and concluded that Safety Score Beta might actually be encouraging more dangerous driving rather than safer driving. While there may be a small element of relevance there, my impression from my own experiences and what I’ve seen others saying is that the net effect of the Safety Score Beta has been a significant, notable increase in safer driving. But let’s go through each of the core items you get scored by.

Tesla Safety Score Aggressive Turning Score

The point, again, seems to be that the system is a little too sensitive. If you’re going to have a scoring system for this, don’t mark people down for things that are well within safe, normal parameters.

Unsafe Following

Apparently, a lot of people get marked down for this. I’m not surprised at all. I was taught when learning how to drive that you should always drive 3 seconds or more behind the car in front of you. That means that you’ll be a bit closer when driving at a slow speed (think of inching through a school pickup line at 5–10 mph, for example) and you’ll need to leave much more space between your car and the car in front when driving on faster roads like the Interstate. Look at the car in front pass a marker and count (not too quickly) to 3. From my perspective, the vast majority of people on the road drive too closely behind others. I assume this is the cause of many accidents and why proper following is emphasized strongly in driver education manuals and classes. Of course, once people get used to driving closer, they will feel that’s natural, fine, and safe. Even if it’s not.

I assume that most of the drivers who have been losing points for following too closely behind other cars have been learning to leave more space. I hope they will get used to that and our roads will be safer for them and for others. At the very least, I hope that drivers will become more aware that they are not actually in the “safe driver” category with this behavior and will keep that in mind and be more cautious in more dangerous scenarios.

I don’t see this scoring item as causing any dangers. I don’t assume anyone trying hard to not lose points on this is doing something dangerous. I see it as being a strong positive.

Forced Autopilot Disengagements

This is a straightforward one and something that I don’t think many people are losing points on. If you have Autopilot engaged, it doesn’t take long before the system is nagging you to move the steering wheel a bit to prove that you’re paying attention. If you don’t do this for too long, the car will kick you out of Autopilot and not let you use it again until you stop the car, put it in park, and then start it again. For anyone who this has happened to a few times, you are probably much more likely to watch out for those pulsing blue lights on the touchscreen to avoid it happening again. (Note: it’s actually easy to be paying attention to the road but not notice the pulsing blue lights, so you have to get a bit accustomed to watching out for the pulsing blue lights as well.)

No matter what, it must be uncommon for drivers to be on Autopilot and go through this forced disengagement. However, for anyone who it has happened to, the point is clear: make sure you’re paying a lot of attention while on Autopilot. Net plus.

Totaling It All Up

Altogether, I think I’ve made the case that the Safety Score Beta system is improving safety in net. That’s my point of view. That said, there are a few key tweaks I’d make.

I certainly do hope that Tesla retains this gamification program and continues to encourage drivers to practice safe driving habits. It could go a long way toward cutting crashes and deaths. My understanding is that Tesla will be using this system in the Tesla Insurance program, and some other insurance companies do have similar — but not quite as thorough — systems. Our own Maarten Vinkhuyzen is in a non-Tesla program a bit like this in the Netherlands to cut insurance costs and has testified that it does help, like the Tesla system seems to help. Even where Tesla can’t implement its own insurance, I hope it will roll this out or keep it out with some sort of incentives (even if only games) for safe driving.

 

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