The Department of Justice is reportedly investigating whether Tesla has misled customers and investors by claiming that its Autopilot technology enables full-fledged self-driving capabilities. According to Reuters, the DOJ launched the probe last year following over a dozen crashes, including fatal ones, in which Autopilot was activated. Prosecutors in Washington and San Francisco are examining if Tesla had made unsupported full self-driving claims about the technology, and they could ultimately pursue criminal charges or seek sanctions. But they could also shut the probe down without doing anything if they determine that Tesla hasn’t done anything wrong.
Back in August, reports came out that the California DMV had filed complaints against the automaker with the California Office of Administrative Hearings. The state’s DMV had accused Tesla of using advertising language on its website for its Autopilot and Full Self-Driving products that aren’t based on facts and made it seem like its vehicles are capable of fully driverless trips. One example is part of the Autopilot page on Tesla’s website that says “All you will need to do is get in and tell your car where to go.” In the same page, there’s a video that starts with a note that reads “The person in the driver’s seat is only there for legal reasons. He isn’t doing anything. The car is driving itself.”
But at the same time, Tesla explicitly states in its support page that “Autopilot, Enhanced Autopilot and Full Self-Driving Capability are intended for use with a fully attentive driver, who has their hands on the wheel.” Those currently enabled features, the company added, “do not make the vehicle autonomous.” Its sources told Reuters that Tesla’s warnings that drivers should keep their hands on the wheel could complicate any case the DOJ may bring.
Aside from the Justice Department, the US National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) is also looking into Tesla’s Autopilot system. The agency initiated a probe in 2021 following the report of 11 crashes with parked first responder vehicles since 2018. Those crashes results in 17 injuries and one death. In June this year, the NHTSA upgraded the probe’s status and expanded it to cover almost all Tesla vehicles sold since 2014.
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