The California Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) accused Tesla of falsely advertising its Autopilot and Full Self-Driving (FSD) features, as mentioned earlier by 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 “false or misleading” claims about its vehicles’ self-driving capabilities.
In the filings, the DMV claims that the names of Tesla’s Autopilot and FSD features, as well as the language the company uses to describe them, falsely imply that cars equipped with the technology can operate autonomously. The DMV specifically highlights the information for Tesla’s Autopilot pagewhich states that its FSD system “is designed to be able to carry out short and long-distance journeys without any action from the person in the driver’s seat” and is capable of “navigating urban roads, complex intersections and highways.”
Tesla includes Autopilot in all of its vehicles, which has features such as traffic-aware cruise control and an automatic steering system. Drivers must pay $12,000 more for Tesla’s FSD system, an option that adds automatic parking, automatic lane changing, the ability for drivers to summon a vehicle from a parking spot to where they’re standing, and access to a beta program for testing upcoming features. Tesla’s FSD and Autopilot don’t make the vehicles fully autonomous, however, and still require drivers to keep their eyes on the road and their hands on the wheel at all times.
“Rather than simply identifying product or brand names, these labels and descriptions ‘Autopilot’ and ‘Full Self-Driving Capability’ represent that vehicles are equipped with ADAS [advanced driver-assistance system] features will operate as an autonomous vehicle, but vehicles equipped with these ADAS features could not at the time of these advertisements and cannot now operate as autonomous vehicles,” the DMV argues in the filing. “These ads are a deceptive practice.”
Although Tesla already provides disclaimers about its driver assistance technology, the DMV says that’s not enough to reverse its allegedly misleading statements. The DMV’s action could lead to the suspension of Tesla’s licenses to manufacture and sell cars in California, but the agency may not go that far. In a statement to Los Angeles Times, a spokesman 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’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 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 how Tesla advertises its Autopilot and FSD system, arguing 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 from July 20, 2021 to May 21, 2022, making up the majority of the 392 total accidents. Tesla is also under investigation by the NHTSA for over a dozen accidents involving Tesla cars with Autopilot and parked emergency vehicles. NHTSA is also looking into a fatal crash in which a Tesla driver using Autopilot hit and killed a motorcyclist, an incident that is one of 39 ongoing investigations involving Tesla vehicles.