Tesla’s redesign of the Model 3 has created quite a buzz in various markets, boasting the removal of several components, most notably the absence of a shifting stalk. However, amid the excitement, eagle-eyed enthusiasts have noticed a potentially significant change that has raised questions: the possible removal of a front-seat airbag from the design.
Just recently, Reddit user u/Capital-Pomegranate6 drew attention to the fact that the new Model 3 doesn’t include a knee airbag for front-seat passengers, a detail found in the French owner’s manual. Intriguingly, this manual also reveals the presence of an additional airbag inside the driver’s seat, resembling the one previously seen in China-built Model Y units last year. Speculations arose, suggesting that this design variation might be region-dependent, influenced by the availability of different airbags in various countries. Some even hinted at potential variations driven by U.S. regulations, which could mandate knee airbags while European counterparts may not require them. Nevertheless, u/Capital-Pomegranate6 emphasized that their Model 3 did indeed come with knee airbags, while reports from outside North America indicated otherwise.
However, one thing is certain: pre-refresh Model 3 builds in the U.S. and other North American countries include knee airbags, as indicated in their respective owner’s manuals. Surprisingly, the new Model 3 design hasn’t yet made its way to the United Kingdom, where their owner’s manual also lacks mention of a knee airbag.
The big question remains unanswered: Will the new Model 3 include knee airbags in the U.S. or other North American markets? Currently, no markets feature knee airbags in their owner’s manuals, but it’s entirely plausible that Tesla might decide to eliminate knee airbags in 2024 Model 3 builds in North America, especially if they determine them to be non-essential. Capital-Pomegranate6 pointed out that the European New Car Assessment Programme (EuroNCAP) conducts comprehensive safety tests on new vehicles, so Tesla might prioritize the inner driver’s seat airbag as a more critical safety feature, provided it still complies with North American safety standards.
In 2019, the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) published an article suggesting that knee airbags might have “a negligible effect on injury risk,” and in some cases, they might even increase the risk of injury. Their accompanying study indicated a mere 0.5-percent reduction in injury risk, which was statistically insignificant, according to the IIHS. Becky Mueller, IIHS senior research engineer and co-author of the study, remarked, “There are many different design strategies for protecting against the kind of leg and foot injuries that knee airbags are meant to address,” hinting at the potential effectiveness of alternative safety measures.
Interestingly, the IIHS acknowledged that some manufacturers continue to incorporate knee airbags into their vehicle designs. Despite their potentially limited impact, the organization suggested that automakers might be utilizing knee airbags to achieve high scores on federally mandated tests, particularly those involving unbelted crash test dummies.