Senators Call for Investigation of Tesla’s Marketing Claims of Its Autopilot and 'Full Self-Driving' Features
Their letter to the Federal Trade Commission alleges that the automaker’s public statements might have led to crashes and fatalities
Two U.S. senators have called for the Federal Trade Commission to open an investigation into whether Tesla has engaged in deceptive marketing practices regarding the capabilities of its Autopilot and Full Self-Driving (FSD) driver assistance systems.
In a letter to FTC Chair Lina Khan, Sens. Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn., and Edward Markey, D-Mass., said they “fear that Tesla’s Autopilot and FSD features are not as mature and reliable as the company pitches to the public,” and that “it is clear that drivers take Tesla’s statements about their vehicles’ capabilities at face value and suffer grave consequences.” According to the letter, at least 11 people have died in the U.S. while they were driving Teslas with Autopilot activated since the feature became available in 2015.
Jason Levine, executive director of the Center for Auto Safety, a nonprofit consumer advocacy organization, told CR in an e-mail that he hopes the FTC takes action to “investigate dangerous ongoing consumer deception by Tesla.”
Along with Consumer Watchdog, another safety advocacy group, the Center for Auto Safety already requested in 2018 that the FTC investigate Tesla’s marketing practices, arguing that the way Tesla advertised Autopilot was “likely to mislead consumers into reasonably believing that their vehicles have self-driving or autonomous capabilities.” Consumer Reports also has pressed the FTC to take enforcement action against any car company that markets a driving system as autonomous when it actually requires supervision and engagement by a human driver.
In 2019, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration asked the FTC to investigate claims Tesla had made in blog posts about the Model 3’s safety in a crash, according to documents made public by PlainSite, a legal documentation advocacy group. In Germany, Tesla has been banned from making certain promises about Autopilot in its advertising materials since a 2020 court ruling.
Earlier this week, NHTSA opened an investigation into 11 confirmed crashes, 17 injuries, and one death involving Tesla vehicles crashing into parked emergency vehicles after Autopilot has been active.
In May, the California Department of Motor Vehicles put Tesla “under review” for public statements that may violate state regulations that prohibit automakers from advertising vehicles for sale or lease as autonomous unless the vehicle meets the statutory and regulatory definition of an autonomous vehicle and the company holds a deployment permit.
As of May 2021, NHTSA had initiated 28 special investigations into crashes involving Tesla vehicles with advanced driver assistance systems, including Autopilot and Full Self-Driving Capability.