Safety Warning: The Model S rear seats

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!

Brian H | April 19, 2013

Some early betas had adjustable rear and front headrests, IIRC. So why would TM remove them?

-Rear headrests block vision, and are routinely removed;
-Rear passengers never bother to adjust them
-Fixed headrests cover the majority of people
-Rear headrests are effective in tests, but rarely used in real life;

then it was a deliberate design decision, and probably correct.

Sazzadul | April 19, 2013

I think everyone here is missing one important point here regarding adjustable headrest is the comfort issue. Now what is the point of having headrest at all in MS when it will never reach the head height of a person of average height ? Its way too below the height of my head and can't be considered to be very useful. so why not just remove it ! Same goes with headrest of front seat where height is not an issue but the fact that I can't move it forward and backward as I can with my 5-series (I personally use it alot). Any thoughts ?

kw1 | April 19, 2013

I think that headrests should be considered as one part of an overall safety system. And the overall safety of a vehicle in a crash is what is important. There have been several collisions involving Teslas and other vehicles and I believe that in all cases the people in the Tesla walked away while in many cases the people in the other cars did not - even when the other cars had adjustable headrests. So I look forward to Tesla submitting its cars for european certification and reading what additional information that provides. But with the extremely large crumple zones that dissipate the force of a collision, the Tesla has proven to be an extremely safe car to date. That said I certainly will always support changes to make it even safer.

jbunn | April 19, 2013

I also own a Volvo C70. Volvo has a reputation as a very safe car, as most people are aware. Seat headrests in front are NOT adjustable, and the rear seat headreasts are NOT adjustable. Likewise headroom is low. Worse actualy. So I'm pretty calm about this all actualy.

JoachimS | April 29, 2013

Thanks to oleandre bringing this topic up and also for a very interesting debate on this.
I am personally only 169 cm (5'7") and was surprised about how high even I sat in the rear when testing the demo cars in Copenhagen this February.
I share the concerns about the safety with the very low rear head rest. I actually also beleive that an adjustable rear head rest would make it more comfortable for adult passangers to travel in the rear.
Just like all other Europeans I really look forward to a EURO NCAP test of the MS since after all, that will (as have pointed out) definately give the only precise answer to if the MS cope with European safety requirements or not.

Brian H | April 29, 2013

Sitting or torso height varies far less than leg length. Most males measure about 70 cm from hip bones to top of head, most females 60 cm.

rd2 | April 29, 2013

What is going on here? Adjustable headrests in the rear seats? Never had a car with those before.

It is highly unlikely, and probably impossible, that TM will design a completely different rear seat design to appease ONLY the European markets, and if you think they must do this for you to buy the Model S, then you should just buy a different car right now. The impracticalities of doing this are enormous to a small company trying to maintain it's production rates.

Also, unless you have hard data to suggest the rear-facing seats are unsafe, you should be careful making such assertions prematurely. The Model S has 5 star crash test ratings from NTSB, and Elon has repeatedly noted that the rear-facing seats are the 'safest seats in the car'. I imagine there is some data behind this statement, and I would be happy to see it revealed, but I certainly do not think he is lying about it.

As far as overall safety, I have little doubt that it is the safest sedan, if not the safest car, on the road today. If anyone saw the head-on collision wreckage from the very tragic fatal accident in Southern CA recently, the Model S looks as though it was barely scratched.

Skjervesbu | May 9, 2013

+1 to this thread.

Was just involved in an accident where a Corolla hit my 5-series from behind on the highway (I was standing still). The Bimmer performed very well, people in the cars in front (which I was bumped into) of me were less fortunate as their head rests were not properly adjusted.

I'm real picky when it comes to safety and I must admit that this issue was noticed immediately when sitting in the back seat. I will be ordering the park sensors and if they are as good as on the Bimmer I would gladly trade some lost rear view for better seats.

David Trushin | May 9, 2013

I don't really care whether the headrests are adjustable or not. If they are adjustable, then my only requirement is that either they adjust low enough to not block my vision, or don't leave an ugly seat top when I remove them. What I do object to is the title of this thread. Enough people on the forum and enough carmakers don't feel that this is a safety issue. I get angry every time I see this thread. Why not just edit the title to "some of us want adjustable headrests".

Pungoteague_Dave | May 9, 2013

Take a pill David. I also think this is a stupid thread, but "get angry"? Seriously?

timmsteiner | May 9, 2013

I will take the crumple zones in the front and back of the car (no motor) any day over short headrests. Just my opionion, but I will add that I'm a mechanical engineer and a trauma surgeon.

David Trushin | May 9, 2013

Maybe angry wasn't a good way to describe it. But you have to admit that the first thing that catches your eye is the phrase safety flaw. Then after reading a little bit you do start to wonder what the excitement is all about. If we are going to discuss issues on this forum, I suppose we should avoid inflammatory language. So I'll take a pill, but I would recommend that the author and some of the people who see only black and white on this issue take one also.

DonPedro | May 10, 2013

I understand OP's position very well, if he believes that he would be able to ensure that his teenage kids and other passengers were always adjusting the headrests correctly.

I also understand Tesla's design decision. Here is a quote from The Handbook of Road Safety Measures (Elvik, Høye, Vaa & Sørensen; 2009; p. 632-633):

Headrests appear to be associated with an increase in the number of fatalities in rear-end collisions. It is not known why this is the case, but many adjustable headrests are adjusted too low. They then act as neck breakers in accidents, rather than as an aid to preventing neck injuries. Adjustable headrests reduce neck injuries in rear-end collisions by around 15%, while fixed head supports reduce such injuries by around 25%.

Bastiaan | July 15, 2013

When we had our test drive in Trondheim, my wife with two kids took place on the rear seat and I immediately saw that she was not sitting comfortably, both from the mismatch between her head and the head rest, and the look on her face. And she isn't tall. Our kids on the other hand could barely look out the window, sitting very low. I had a good time behind the wheel, no doubt. Back at the store I quickly tried the back seat, which made my decision very easy: Model S is not the car for us. I am 174cm and my head was touching the roof, without support, while sitting too low for comfort. I would not want to travel long distances this way, and our kids will reach my height or more within the period we intend to drive our next car.
My friendly co-pilot from Tesla replied that indeed, the designers seem to have prioritised aesthetics there; and he's right, the aesthetics are fine.
Our current car is a 2002 VW Golf Highline with adjustable head rests at all five seats, and I always adjust mine to make contact with the back of my head at eye height. I just hope the car lasts until Model X arrives on the Norwegian market, which we will not order before a having tried it. I cinserely hope it will be a better fit.

HenryT2 | July 15, 2013

Tesla owners who get defensive and say that the poster should buy an armored truck or couldn't leave the house should just form a cult and get it over with. Then they could worship and shout down the heretics and maybe get some tax benefits while the rest of us ignore them.

The Model S is not perfect for all people. Tesla obviously designed the Model S for the US market. In the US market, passengers are barely a consideration unless its an SUV or minivan. I'm going to guess that sedans have on average people in the back seat less that 5% of the time (and for adults, maybe less than 1%?). Consequently, something like the Model S is not going to compromise on rear window visibility to give greater safety to passenger who will rarely use the back seat. The rear view mirror is fairly tight as it is and I would not have wanted that precious mirror real estate further occluded by bigger headrests.

Unfortunately, @oleandre has needs that are not satisfied by the Model S. Perhaps Tesla will decide to modify a model for the European market (if carrying adults in the back seat is an important factor there). Or perhaps he'll have to wait for the Model X, which I would assume would have more scrutiny on the rear seats as they tend to be used far more frequently.

In any case, I think it's great that this has been brought up so that Tesla might consider if it's a change they want to pursue.

@Oleandre, I hope that either Tesla makes changes that satisfy your needs, or you decide that you can live with the Tesla as primarily a 2 passenger car. I believe that missing the Tesla experience would noticeably reduce the quality of your life whereas the back seat issue might 50% reduce the safety of the backseat passenger in the 1% chance of an accident. It's like wearing a flame retardant driving suit every time you drive might increase your safety an infinitismal amount while drastically reducing your quality of life.

asbjorn.sabo | July 16, 2013

I am very glad more people than us have noticed the possible safety issue with the low back of the rear seat.

We have reserved a Tesla Model S, and have been looking forward to our new car. We really wanted to support this innovative company. and have informed colleagues and friends about Tesla, the new electric car. People who never had heard about Tesla are now definetly aware of the 7-seater with race car performance and large battery for long trips.

When Tesla Norway invited to a test drive we were happy to participate. The car is looking nice, and is a pleasure to drive, but the (lack of) neck protection in the rear seat surprised us. The head rests are far too low, and reminds us about cars from the 80s and earlier. We are four persons from ~170 cm (5'8") and upwards to 192 cm (6'5") in our family, and for all our family members the headrest was to low. As far as I can see, the height of the neck support is really only suited for small children. I know the roof is low in the rear seat, but there is definetly space available for higher and/or adjustable headrests.

We are very aware of safety in our cars, and all our cars have been bought after checking safety tests/ratings etc. I had therefore read everything I could find about the safety of the Model S prior to reservation, and was convinced they had thought about everything, but these rear seats came as a surprise.

Presently we have a VW Golf 2009-model, and the head rest in the rear seats are high enough to fulfill its safety purpose for every one in our family. Obviously it is possible to have higher head rests even in smaller cars, and hence a higher or adjustable neck protection (like in the majority of modern family cars) should be an easy update and important improvement for Model S, which seems to be perfect in so many other ways!

We are now unfortunately evaluating to cancel our reservation due to the low rear seat back, which we feel will be a safety hazard for the family members in the rear seat in case of an accident (or hard acceleration), but we will send this email to Tesla as well and hope for a positive answer/update from Tesla. Hopefully the Model X will be better in this respect, even if the pictures I have seen on the internet shows that the seat back is still on the low side for adults...

markapeterman | July 16, 2013

+1 HenryT2

While I personally can't imagine the rear headrests being important enough to sway my purchase decision, I appreciate that it seems very important to some and Tesla should consider it.

Atlantis | July 16, 2013

- Tesla could and should improve the rear-seat headrest.
= The improved safety will be a welcome positive.
- In the meantime, life is all about compromises.
= Between a car with:
+ proper rear-seat headrest
+ an engine in the front
+ and a gas tank underneath
= and a car with:
+ completely missing rear-seat headrest
+ a big crumble-zone frunk
+ no gas to cause fire

I wouldn't have any problem identifying the superior option.
I DO see why one demands headrests and argues for them.
I DO NOT see why one cancels an order because of them.

AmpedRealtor | July 16, 2013

I, too, am not all that concerned with the head rests. They felt just fine for me and my partner. I'm 5'8" and he is 6'. With the additional reinforcements in the front crumple zone and the steel inserts in the B-pillar, more air bags than I can remember, and no exploding gas tank or front engine to smash into your lap in the event of a collision... I'm satisfied.

It's easy to focus on one single aspect of a vehicle to the exclusion of all its other wonderful safety features. Keep the big picture in mind.

DJung | July 16, 2013

I went into a Tesla store yesterday and st in the rear seat and now I know exactly what this thread is talking about. (the vehicle did have a panoramic sunroof) The question that it brought up for me is how comfortable this vehicle is for adults in the rear seats for long road trips. I noticed that an adult can't put their head back comfortably and sleep without having their head rest on the ceiling of the car rather than the head rests. Can anyone chime in?

Brian H | July 16, 2013

Adjustable headrests cause more injuries, because they "adjust" lower, and that's where they get left. Very few people actually raise them.

Brian H | July 29, 2013

Those look like the demos and prototypes on the Get Amped tour. 2012.

Eknight47 | August 8, 2013

I'll take the NHTSA's word over your doctor brother-in-law's opinion....just sayin'.

carlk | August 8, 2013

"I am 174cm and my head was touching the roof"

You must have very short legs. ;)

Brian H | August 8, 2013

He's the Giant Dwarf design.

Skjervesbu | August 9, 2013

But do either of them test impact on people in the rear seat when hit from behind?

A car can be built to achieve a high test score based on knowledge on the test program.

bent | August 9, 2013

Is there air bag coverage above the rear seat headrests at all?

Waqas | October 30, 2013

This article is worth reading regarding Model S safety:,2817,2423467,00.asp

Most note worthy is the statement from The Center of Auto Safety director:

"Consumers should "do their own deeper analysis" of vehicle safety ratings with an eye towards finding a vehicle that meets their particular needs. For example, a car buyer who expects to do the majority of their driving alone should look at driver's side safety ratings above all else, and pick a car that scores highest in that area even if other vehicles have better overall safety ratings."

So yes, people have a right to be concerend about the rear seats.

Car t man | October 30, 2013

Arguing aside, Tesla probably could install the Mercedes like driver button retractable rear headrests. They can be taken down by a push of a button or pulled back up again by the driver, depending on presence of passengers in back.

Waqas | March 12, 2014

Another article worth noting:

Seems safty for reat passengers insn't tested at all and some 5 star cars had terrible results.

l.glazerman | November 23, 2014

On a related note, there's no upper connector for child car seats on the rear (second row) seats.

Tabarnouche | November 23, 2014

Yes there are. People answered this question on the new thread that you created:

Another problem solved by the Owner's Manual...