Tesla faces US criminal probe over self-driving claims

Tesla under criminal investigation over self driving technology

Tesla is under criminal investigation over the claims that the car can drive on its own. The US Department of Justice launched an undisclosed probe last year with regard to dozen car crashes. Few such crashes were fatal. The driver assistance system Autopilot was said to be activated during accidents.

Tesla faces US criminal probe over self-driving claims
Image credits- India Today

In 2016, Tesla’s marketing materials have touted Autopilot’s capabilities. On a conference call that year, Elon Musk, the Silicon Valley automaker’s chief executive, described it as probably better than a human driver. Recently, Musk said on another call Tesla would soon release an upgraded version of “Full Self-Driving” software allowing customers to travel “to your work, your friend’s house, to the grocery store without you touching the wheel.”

According to the video on its website, “The person in the driver’s seat is only there for legal reasons. He is not doing anything. The car is driving itself.” Despite the statement, the automaker explicitly warned drivers that they must keep their hands on the wheel and maintain control of their vehicles while using Autopilot. Tesla cars are designed to assist with steering, braking, speed, and lane changes but its features “do not make the vehicle autonomous,” the company says on its website.


According to the Justice Department, such warnings from Tesla could complicate any case. Musk said in an interview with Automotive News in 2020 that Autopilot problems stem from customers using the system in ways contrary to Tesla’s instructions. Federal and California safety regulators are already scrutinizing whether claims about Autopilot’s capabilities and the system’s design imbue customers with a false sense of security. It induces them to treat Teslas as truly driverless cars and become complacent behind the wheel with potentially deadly consequences.

People relevant to the inquiry said that the Justice Department investigation potentially represents a more serious level of scrutiny because of the possibility of criminal charges against the company or individual executives. As part of the latest probe, 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.

The Justice Department’s Autopilot probe is far from recommending any action partly because it is competing with two other DOJ investigations involving Tesla, one of the sources said. Investigators still have much work to do and no decision on charges is imminent, this source said. The Justice Department may also face challenges in building its case, said the sources, because of Tesla’s warnings about overreliance on Autopilot.