The U.S. Department of Justice reportedly launched a criminal probe into Tesla’s self-driving vehicle claim.
According to Reuters, three people familiar with the matter told the publication about the probe. The previously undisclosed investigation started last year following over a dozen crashes, some fatal, involving Tesla’s Autopilot automated driving technology. The people told Reuters that Autopilot was activated during the accidents.
Tesla CEO Elon Musk has repeatedly and publicly promised that self-driving cars were coming but hasn’t yet delivered. As noted by The Verge, Musk went from saying Tesla would have 1 million robotaxis on the road by the end of the year to 1 million people in the Full Self-Driving (FSD) beta. However, those are very different things.
Tesla vehicles come with a driver assistant feature called Autopilot, but for an extra $19,500 in Canada, customers can upgrade it to FSD. But despite what Musk has said and the arguably misleading name, FSD still requires driver supervision. Tesla’s website notes as much when you select the FSD add-on, which Reuters says could complicate the Justice Department’s case.
FSD has been a tricky feature for Tesla. Fans love it (so much so that some have sought to put children in harm’s way to prove it works), and critics have repeatedly pointed out safety concerns with Tesla using regular people to beta test FSD. The U.S. National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) is investigating 16 crashes where Tesla vehicles using Autopilot crashed into stationary emergency vehicles, leading to 15 injuries and one fatality.
Moreover, regulators have accused Tesla of false advertising, and customers have sued the company for allegedly misleading them about the capabilities of FSD.
So far, most of this seems to have had little effect on Tesla or Musk, but a Justice Department investigation carries the risk that Tesla or its executives will be charged criminally. Reuters reports that federal prosecutors in Washington and San Francisco are investigating whether Tesla’s claims about Autopilot and FSD misled customers.