"We're pleased to announce that the Tesla Model S has received a maximum-possible 5-star safety rating from the European New Car Assessment Programme," Tesla Motors (NASDAQ:TSLA) said in a recent blog post. The accolade is important for the new carmaker as it continues to establish itself among larger auto manufacturers as a standard-setter.

Model S in UK. Image source: Tesla Motors.

Tesla wants to raise the bar in safety
The 5-star safety rating from Euro NCAP likely isn't a surprise to anyone already following the company closely. Tesla's attention to detail on safety was already a strong point for the electric carmaker. The company aced the safety tests with the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration with a 5-star rating in every subcategory.

But scoring a 5-star rating in both the NHTSA and Euro NCAP testing is more difficult than it would seem. In fact, only two cars have done so since 2011.

Tesla says the reason it was able to ace both tests has to do with its "holistic approach to safety." The holistic approach, Tesla says, includes focusing on building both a structurally sound car and one that "is also designed to intelligently anticipate and react to potentially dangerous situations."

The most credit for Tesla's safety achievements should be given to factors that it can only achieve because of the advantages that come with a well-designed electric car -- advantages that manufacturers of traditional internal-combustion-engine vehicles have trouble matching. As Tesla says:

Structurally, Model S has advantages not seen in conventional cars. It has a low center of gravity because its battery pack, the largest mass in the car, is positioned underneath the passenger compartment, making rollover extremely unlikely. It also has a large front crumple zone because of the lack of an engine, meaning it can absorb more energy from a frontal impact, the most common type of crash resulting in fatalities.

The Model S battery lies across the bottom of the vehicle. The location of a Tesla battery helps the car achieve a lower center of gravity, making rollover extremely difficult. Image source: Tesla Motors.

Tesla's safety ambitions go far beyond where the manufacturer is today with the Model S. The only two active intelligent safety features currently pushed to the Model S fleet are lane-departure and speed-limit warnings. In October, Model S deliveries started to include new autopilot hardware to enhance safety, including 12 ultrasonic sensors, a forward-looking camera, a forward radar, and "a digitally controlled, high-precision electric brake boost."

While the hardware is now standard on the Model S, the many intelligent safety enhancements the hardware will enable are not active yet. They will be made active through a series of Tesla's signature over-the-air software updates.

"We specifically selected this hardware to accommodate the progressive introduction of new safety features via software updates over the course of the next several months," Tesla explained. Among the features owners will see in the next several months, thanks to the new autopilot hardware, are side collision warning and avoidance, automatic emergency breaking, automatic steering to stay in a lane, lane changes with a simple tap of a turn signal, and blind-spot warning.

Tesla's emphasis on safety is key for investors, particularly because the Model S is currently the company's only vehicle on the market. The safety of the Model S, therefore, currently serves as the only indication investors have of how the electric carmaker will approach safety. And, fortunately, Tesla's approach to safety is looking so good that it's outperforming most of its peers.