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California DMV accuses Tesla of making false claims about Autopilot and Full-Self Driving

Tesla allegedly made ‘untrue or misleading’ claims about its cars’ self-driving capabilities

Photo by Sean O’Kane / The Verge

California’s Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) has accused Tesla of falsely advertising its Autopilot and Full Self-Driving (FSD) features, as reported earlier by the Los Angeles Times (via CNBC). The agency filed two separate complaints with the state’s Office of Administrative Hearings on July 28th, alleging Tesla made “untrue or misleading” claims about its vehicles’ autonomous 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, wrongly imply that cars equipped with the technology can operate autonomously. The DMV specifically points to the information on Tesla’s Autopilot page, which states its FSD system “is designed to be able to conduct short and long distance trips with no action required by the person in the driver’s seat” and is capable of “navigating urban streets, complex intersections and freeways.”

Tesla includes Autopilot in all of its vehicles, which comes with features like traffic-aware cruise control and autosteer. Drivers have to pay $12,000 extra for Tesla’s FSD system, an option that adds auto-parking, auto lane changing, the ability for drivers to summon a vehicle from a parking space to where they’re standing, and access to a beta program to test upcoming features. Tesla’s FSD and Autopilot don’t make vehicles fully autonomous, though, and still require drivers to pay attention to the road and keep their hands on the wheel at all times.

“Instead of simply identifying product or brand names, these ‘Autopilot’ and ‘Full Self-Driving Capability’ labels and descriptions represent that vehicles equipped with the ADAS [advanced driver-assistance system] features will operate as an autonomous vehicle, but vehicles equipped with those ADAS features could not at the time of those advertisements, and cannot now, operate as autonomous vehicles,” the DMV claims in the filling. “These advertisements are a deceptive practice.”

Although Tesla already provides disclaimers about its driver-assist technology, the DMV says it’s not enough to reverse its alleged misleading statements. The DMV’s action could result in the suspension of Tesla’s licenses to produce and sell cars in California, but the agency may not go that far. In a statement to the Los Angeles Times, a spokesperson for the agency said it would require Tesla to properly educate customers about its Autopilot and FSD features and provide sufficient warnings about the limitations of the technology. Tesla has 15 days to respond to the DMV’s complaint, or the agency will take action without a hearing.

Tesla has faced similar complaints in the past, with the German government asking the company to stop using the term “Autopilot” in 2016 over concerns that it could suggest its vehicles are fully autonomous. 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 the automaker “overstated the capabilities of its vehicles,” which could “pose a threat to motorists and other users of the road.”

In June, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) released its first report detailing crashes involving vehicles with advanced driver-assist systems and autonomous technology. It found Tesla reported the most accidents related to driver-assist technology, with 273 from July 20th, 2021 to May 21st, 2022, making up the majority of the 392 total crashes. Tesla is also under investigation by the NHTSA for over a dozen crashes involving Tesla cars with Autopilot and parked emergency vehicles. The NHTSA is also looking into a fatal accident in which a Tesla driver using Autopilot hit and killed a motorcyclist, an incident that makes up one of 39 ongoing investigations involving Tesla vehicles.