The California Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) has accused Tesla of falsely advertising its Autopilot and Full Self-Driving (FSD) features, as previously reported by the 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 had made “false or misleading” claims about the autonomous driving capabilities of its vehicles.
In the files, 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 references the information on Tesla’s Autopilot page, which states that the FSD system is “designed to allow short and long-haul journeys without the need for the person in the driver’s seat to do anything” and is capable of “running through urban to navigate streets, complex intersections and highways.”
Tesla includes Autopilot in all of its vehicles, which comes with features such as traffic-aware cruise control and autosteer. Drivers must pay an additional $12,000 for Tesla’s FSD system, an option that adds automatic parking, automatic lane changing, the ability for drivers to recall a vehicle from a parking spot to where they are, and access to a beta program to upcoming features to be tested. However, Tesla’s FSD and Autopilot do not make vehicles fully autonomous, and still require drivers to pay attention to the road and keep their hands on the wheel at all times.
“Rather than simply identifying product or brand names, these ‘Autopilot’ and ‘Full Self-Driving Capability’ labels and descriptions indicate that vehicles equipped with the ADAS [advanced driver-assistance system] functions will work as an autonomous vehicle, but vehicles equipped with those ADAS functions could not, at the time of those advertisements, and cannot now, operate as autonomous vehicles,” the RDW claims in the fill. “These ads are a deceptive practice.”
While Tesla is already making disclaimers about its driver assistance technology, the DMV says it’s not enough to undo its allegedly misleading statements. The DMV’s move 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 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 adequate warnings about the technology’s limitations. Tesla has 15 days to respond to the DMV’s complaint, otherwise 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 is promoting its Autopilot and FSD system, claiming that the automaker “overestimated the capabilities of its vehicles,” which “may pose a threat to motorists and other road users.”
In June, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) released its first accident report on vehicles with advanced driver assistance systems and autonomous technology. It was found that Tesla reported the most crashes related to driver assistance technology, with 273 from July 20, 2021 to May 21, 2022, making up the majority of the 392 total crashes. Tesla is also under investigation by the NHTSA for more than a dozen crashes involving Tesla cars with Autopilot and parked emergency vehicles. The NHTSA is also investigating a fatal accident in which a Tesla driver using Autopilot struck and killed a motorcyclist, an incident that is part of 39 ongoing investigations involving Tesla vehicles.