Tesla has leaned into autonomous driving like few other automakers with its Autopilot system, a key feature of its vehicles since 2013. However, this push could land the company in trouble. A new report says the US Department of Justice has opened a criminal investigation into Tesla following a series of crashes and deaths related to Autopilot.
Initially, Tesla forced customers to pay extra for Autopilot, which cost between $5,000 and $8,000, depending on features. As it expands to produce less expensive vehicles, Tesla has included the basic Autopilot feature set at no extra charge. As more drivers started using Autopilot, we started seeing reports of accidents where Autopilot was in complete control of the vehicle. Tesla has since expanded the “Full Self-Driving (FSD)” features of its vehicles to make the cars more reliable and enable them to drive themselves in more situations. And yet, not autopilot the truth Self-driving
The problem is the way Tesla advertises and discusses Autopilot. While the company’s more cautious disclaimer notes that drivers should keep their hands on the wheel, anyone who’s driven a Tesla knows that the car often lets you zone out for long periods of time without a jolt. And then there’s the way Tesla CEO Elon Musk talks about Autopilot. A promotional video on Tesla’s website shows Musk saying that the driver is only there “for legal reasons” and is “driving the car himself.”
Reuters reports that the DOJ investigation began last year and may pose a more serious threat to Tesla than the various state-level investigations already pending. The case could lead to criminal charges against individual executives or the company as a whole, sources said. However, a complaint would likely require evidence of intentional misrepresentation in the investigation. If not, Tesla can always point to its disclaimer as legal cover, even if Musk makes wild claims about Autopilot’s capabilities there. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration is also investigating crashes in which Teslas were in Autopilot mode.
Tesla doesn’t have a media office — it only has Elon Musk, who was too busy closing his Twitter acquisition to tweet any statement about the report. It comes as Tesla is scaling back sensors on its cars, making some Autopilot features unavailable as the company works to update the system to rely solely on camera input. Tesla is not alone in the struggle to perfect self-driving technology. Years and billions of dollars later, big players like Google and Uber are still struggling to create vehicles that can drive alongside humans.