Tesla’s controversial Autopilot driver assist might have just gotten even more controversial. According to Reuters, the company has been under federal criminal investigation since 2021 for misleading people about Autopilot’s capabilities. It’s the latest in a string of state and federal investigations, coming at a time when the automaker is removing more sensors from the cars while increasing the price of its “full self-driving” (FSD) feature.
The safety of Tesla’s electric vehicles has been repeatedly extolled by Tesla CEO Elon Musk, who claimed his EVs are the safest cars on sale. However, those claims have been challenged by regulators such as the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration as well as by collated crash data.
Now, Reuters reports that “Justice Department prosecutors in Washington and San Francisco are examining whether Tesla misled consumers, investors and regulators by making unsupported claims about its driver assistance technology’s capabilities,” the sources said.
Although Tesla’s website states that Autopilot requires active supervision and is not autonomous, it also features a video that claims, “The person in the driver’s seat is only there for legal reasons. He is not doing anything. The car is driving itself,” and Musk has repeatedly been interviewed from the driver’s seat of a Tesla hands-free.
Whether the Department of Justice’s investigation will result in criminal prosecutions is unknown.
It’s yet one more Autopilot-related headache for Tesla. In August, we learned that NHTSA is investigating whether Autopilot can see motorcyclists. The investigation came after a pair of fatal incidents when Tesla drivers hit and killed riders while using the assist mode. A separate NHTSA investigation is underway after at least 11 incidents when Teslas operating under Autopilot have hit emergency vehicles, and a third seeks to determine if the removal of forward-looking radar sensors from the EVs is the cause of hundreds of phantom braking events.
If that wasn’t enough, California’s Department of Motor Vehicles has also filed complaints with the state’s Office of Administrative Hearings. As with the DoJ investigation, the California DMV is also upset with Tesla’s misleading statements over its “FSD” feature, which it says are “untrue or misleading, and not based on facts.”