Tesla Faces U.S. Criminal Probe Over Self-Driving Claims

Tesla Inc. is under criminal investigation in the United States over claims that the company’s electric vehicles can drive themselves, three people familiar with the matter said.

The US Department of Justice launched the previously undisclosed investigation last year after more than a dozen accidents, some fatal, involving Tesla’s Autopilot driver assistance system, which activated during the accidents, the people said.

As far back as 2016, Tesla’s marketing materials touted Autopilot’s capabilities. On a conference call earlier this year, Elon Musk, the CEO of the Silicon Valley automaker, described it as “probably better” than a human driver.

In another call last week, Musk said Tesla will soon be releasing an updated version of “Full Self-Driving” software that will allow customers to “drive to your work, your friend’s house, the grocery store, without you knowing.” touch the steering wheel”.

A recent video on the company’s website states: “The person in the driver’s seat is only there for legal reasons. He does nothing. The car drives itself.”

However, the company has also specifically warned drivers to keep their hands on the wheel and remain in control of their vehicle while using Autopilot.

Tesla’s technology is said to help with steering, braking, speed and lane changes, but its features “do not make the vehicle autonomous,” the company says on its website.

Such warnings could complicate any case the Justice Department wishes to bring, the sources said.

Tesla, which dissolved its press office in 2020, did not respond to written inquiries from Reuters on Wednesday. Musk also did not respond to written requests for comment. A spokesman for the Justice Department declined to comment.

Musk said in a 2020 interview with Automotive News that Autopilot issues stem from customers using the system contrary to Tesla’s instructions.

Federal and California security agencies are already investigating whether Claims about the capabilities of the autopilot and the design of the system Giving customers a false sense of security, tricking them into treating Teslas as truly driverless cars and becoming complacent behind the wheel with potentially deadly consequences.

The Justice Department investigation may represent a more serious scrutiny due to the possibility of criminal charges being filed against the company or individual executives, people familiar with the investigation said.

As part of the latest investigation, Justice Department prosecutors in Washington and San Francisco are investigating whether Tesla misled consumers, investors and regulators in whichunconfirmed claims about the capabilities of its driver assistance technology, said the sources.

Officials conducting their investigation could ultimately file criminal charges, seek civil penalties, or end the investigation without doing anything, they said.

The Justice Department’s Autopilot investigation is far from recommending any action, in part because it competes with two other DOJ investigations involving Tesla, one of the sources said. Investigators still have work to do and a decision on charges is not imminent, this source said.

The Justice Department could also face challenges building its case, the sources said, because Tesla has warned about over-reliance on autopilot.

After Musk revealed at last week’s investor call that Teslas would soon be driving without customers touching the controls, Musk added that the vehicles still needed someone in the driver’s seat. “Like we’re not saying that’s quite willing to have nobody behind the wheel,” he said.

Tesla’s website also warns that before engaging Autopilot, the driver must first agree to “keep your hands on the wheel at all times” and always “retain control and responsibility for your vehicle.”

Barbara McQuade, a former US attorney in Detroit of automotive companies and employees in fraud cases are tracked and prosecuted not involved in the current probesaid investigator probably would have to reveal Evidence such as Emails or other internal communications that indicate that Tesla and Musk have intentionally made misleading claims about Autopilot’s capabilities.


The criminal autopilot investigation only adds to the other investigations and legal issues surrounding Musk, who was embroiled in a court battle earlier this year after abandoning a $44 billion takeover of social media giant Twitter Inc to reverse course and announce enthusiasm for the upcoming acquisition.

In August 2021, the U.S. National Highway Traffic Safety Administration launched an investigation into a series of accidents, one of which was fatal, in which Teslas on Autopilot crashed into parked emergency vehicles.

NHTSA officials intensified their investigation in June, which covers 830,000 Teslas with autopilot, and identified 16 accidents involving the company’s electric cars and stationary first responder and road maintenance vehicles. The move is a step regulators must take before requesting a recall. The agency had no immediate comment.

In July of this year, the California Department of Motor Vehicles accused Tesla of falsely promoting its Autopilot and full self-driving capability as an autonomous vehicle controller. Tesla filed papers with the agency to get a hearing on the allegations and said it plans to defend itself against them. The DMV said in a statement that it is currently in the discovery phase of the process and declined to comment further.

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