US investigation into Tesla’s Autopilot self-driving claim still in discovery phase and no charges are imminent

US investigation into Tesla's Autopilot self-driving claim still in discovery phase and no charges are imminent thumbnail
Tesla's Full Self-Driving Beta modes (image: DÆrik/YouTube)
Tesla’s Full Self-Driving Beta modes (image: DÆrik/YouTube)

The US Department of Justice has reportedly launched a criminal investigation of Tesla’s bold Autopilot feature claims. The automaker labels both its paid autonomous driving package and standard Autopilot feature as ‘self-driving,’ which authorities say might be misleading investors and drivers alike.

Department of Justice prosecutors from Washington and San Francisco have launched a criminal probe into Tesla’s standard Autopilot feature description as a “self-driving” option. This could be confusing for Tesla car drivers, or for investors, they claim, as the company is “making unsupported claims about its driver assistance technology’s capabilities.”

The Tesla Autopilot investigation has been launched concurrently with the US National Highway Traffic Safety Administration‘s probe into a number of crashes where Autopilot may have been engaged. The NHTSA has flagged several unprovoked collisions with emergency vehicles parked on the side of the road, in particular.

There haven’t been any criminal charges levied yet, and the prosecutors are weighing their options in light of the numerous warnings and disclosures in the Autopilot and Full Self-Driving Beta features’ manual about the need for driver supervision at all times. Elon Musk is on record saying that these warning are there for legal reasons and with the upcoming FSD Beta update “the car will be able to take you from your home to your work…without you touching the wheel.”

This quarter, we expect to go to wide release of Full Self-Driving Beta in North America. So, anyone who has ordered a Full Self-Driving package will have access to the FSD beta program this year, probably about a month from now…

Well, there’s this debate of what’s the interventions per mile and maybe safety interventions per mile. Like we’re not saying that that’s quite ready to have no one behind the wheel. It’s just that you will almost never have to touch the control, vehicle controllers. So, like when I came to Giga Texas from a friend’s house today, I never touched any of the controls already here. And then there is a longer process called the march of 9s, which is how many 9s reliability do you need before you could really be comfortable saying that the car could drive with no one in it? And there’s some subjectivity as to how many 9s you need. But I think we’ll be pretty close to having enough 9s that you’re going to have no one in the car by the end of this year. And certainly, without a question, that’s in my mind next year.

Elon Musk’s verbiage addressing the Full Self-Driving Beta capabilities has been changing recently, and he is no longer saying there will be a truly self-driving Tesla by the end of the year without adding that it won’t be legally a Level 4/5 autonomy unless it gets regulatory approval.

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Still, apart from the DoJ and NHTSA, the California DMV is also investigating Tesla’s self-driving claims and even suggested revoking its plate licensing. The company has filed explanation papers with the agency and the DMV says the process is still in its discovery stage as is the leaked criminal investigation by the DoJ, say sources familiar with the probe.

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Daniel Zlatev, 2022-10-27 (Update: 2022-10-27)

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