The rumors of Tesla facing a Justice Department investigation were true. The EV designer has confirmed in an SEC filing that the DOJ has requested documents linked to Autopilot and Full Self-Driving (FSD) features. Tesla says that no government body has determined “wrongdoing” as part of an active investigation, but warns that enforcement could have a “material adverse impact” on its business.
Tesla didn’t detail the nature of the request, and doesn’t usually comment on issues since disbanding its communications team. We’ve asked the DOJ for comment. However, it comes after the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) investigated 35 crashes where Autopilot or FSD was reportedly involved, including collisions with emergency vehicles. California’s DMV and other officials have accused Tesla of falsely suggesting that its cars are truly driverless when even FSD frequently requires intervention. The state DMV and the NHTSA are worried Tesla drivers might grow complacent and fail to take evasive action when necessary.
The brand has issued mixed messages on its cars’ abilities. While Tesla’s support site make clear that Autopilot and FSD don’t represent complete autonomy and require a “fully attentive driver,” the FSD marketing page claims that you’ll only need to “tell your car where to go.” Company chief Elon Musk has long promised that true self-driving is just around the corner, but mentioned in October 2022 that Tesla was “not saying it’s quite ready” to go driverless. FSD remains in beta, although it’s now open to anyone who has paid to unlock the functionality.
The DOJ investigation comes as Tesla and its leadership face mounting scrutiny over their practices. Musk is embroiled in a shareholder lawsuit over his tweets about taking Tesla private. The National Labor Relations Board recently accused Tesla of breaking the law by asking Florida staff to keep quiet about pay and a firing. There are also lingering questions about build quality following a string of recalls. Tesla is facing growing pressure to alter its practices, and potential DOJ charges are just the latest concern.
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