UNITED STATES: According to three people with knowledge of the situation, Tesla Inc. is the subject of a criminal investigation in the United States for making claims that its electric cars can drive themselves.
Following more than a dozen mishaps, some of which were deadly, involving Tesla’s driving assistance system Autopilot, which was turned on during the accidents, the U.S. Department of Justice opened the previously unreported investigation last year, the people said.
Tesla’s marketing brochures began praising Autopilot’s capabilities as early as 2016. Elon Musk, the CEO of the Silicon Valley automaker, said in a conference call that year that it was “probably better” than a human driver.
“The person in the driver’s seat is merely there for legal reasons, according to a video that is now available on the corporate website. He is not acting in any way. The vehicle is self-driving.”
But the company has also made it clear that while using Autopilot, drivers need to keep their hands on the wheel and retain control of their cars.
According to the company’s website, the Tesla technology is intended to help with steering, braking, speed, and lane changes, but its functions “do not make the vehicle autonomous.”
In a 2020 interview with Automotive News, Musk claimed that difficulties with Autopilot are caused by users who don’t follow Tesla’s guidelines.
The claims made about Autopilot’s capabilities and the system’s design are already being closely examined by federal and California safety regulators to see if they give customers a false sense of security, leading them to treat Teslas as truly driverless cars and grow complacent behind the wheel with potentially fatal results.
Due to the potential for criminal charges to be brought against the business or specific individuals, the Justice Department probe may constitute a more intense degree of scrutiny, according to the people familiar with the investigation.
According to the sources, as part of the most recent investigation, Justice Department attorneys in Washington and San Francisco are looking into whether Tesla deceived customers, investors, and regulators by making unsubstantiated claims about the capabilities of its driver assistance technology.
According to them, investigators could finally file criminal complaints, ask for civil penalties, or just end their investigation without taking any further action.