February 7, 2023

The California Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) has accused Tesla of falsely advertising its autopilot and fully autonomous driving (FSD) features, such as I mentioned earlier before Los Angeles Times (via CNBC). The agency filed two separate complaints with the state’s Office of Administrative Hearings on July 28, alleging that Tesla made “incorrect or misleading” claims about its cars’ self-driving capabilities.

In the filings, the DMV claims the names of Tesla’s autopilot and FSD features, as well as the language the company uses to describe them, erroneously indicate that cars equipped with the technology can operate autonomously. DMV specifically refers to information relating to Tesla autopilot pagewhich states that its FSD system is “designed to be able to make short and long trips without any action required by the person in the driver’s seat” and capable of “navigating city streets, complex intersections and highways.”

Tesla includes autopilot in all of its vehicles, which comes with features like traffic-aware cruise control and automated steering. Drivers have to pay $12,000 more for Tesla’s FSD system, an option that adds automatic parking, automatic lane change, the ability for drivers to call the car from their parking spot to where they’re parked, and access to a pilot program to test upcoming features. Tesla’s FSD and Autopilot don’t make the vehicles completely autonomous, though, and they still require drivers to pay attention to the road and keep their hands on the steering wheel at all times.

Rather than simply specifying product or brand names, the “autopilot” and “fully autonomous driving” tags and descriptions represent that ADAS-equipped vehicles [advanced driver-assistance system] The features will operate as an autonomous vehicle, but vehicles equipped with ADAS features could not at the time of those advertisements, and cannot now operate as autonomous vehicles,” the DMV claims in the packaging. “These advertisements are deceptive practice.”

Although Tesla already offers a disclaimer about its driver assistance technology, the DMV says it’s not enough to reverse its allegedly misleading statements. The DMV action may suspend Tesla’s licenses to produce and sell cars in California, but the agency may not go that far. In a statement to Los Angeles Times, a spokesperson for the agency said it would require Tesla to properly educate customers about autopilot and FSD features and provide adequate warnings about the technology’s limitations. Tesla has 15 days to respond to the DMV complaint, or the agency will take action without a hearing.

Tesla has faced similar complaints in the past, with the German government telling the company to stop using the term “autopilot” in 2016 over concerns it could imply that its cars are fully self-driving. Last August, Senators Ed Markey (D-MA) and Richard Blumenthal (D-CT) asked the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) to investigate the way Tesla advertises its autopilot and FSD system, claiming that the automaker “overestimated the capabilities of its vehicles,” which could “pose a threat to motorists and other road users.”

In June, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) released its first report detailing crashes involving vehicles with advanced driver assistance systems and autonomous technology. It found that Tesla reported the most accidents related to driver assistance technology, with 273 recorded from July 20, 2021 to May 21, 2022, making up the majority of the 392 total. Tesla is also under investigation by the NHTSA in more than a dozen crashes involving autopilot Tesla cars and parked emergency vehicles. NHTSA is also studying a fatal accident in which a Tesla driver using autopilot struck and killed a motorcyclist, the incident that forms one of 39 ongoing investigations involving Tesla vehicles.

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