Tesla is reportedly target of DoJ criminal probe of self-driving claims

Tesla is reportedly under criminal investigation by the Department of Justice in the United States over self-driving claims.

Over the last few months, there has been mounting pressure from regulators, politicians, and the media regarding Tesla’s self-driving effort.

Tesla Autopilot has been under NHTSA investigation for a year now, and Tesla’s Full Self-Driving (FSD) Beta has been under attack by a well-funded smear campaign that has reached politicians.

These are both challenges that Tesla has faced successfully in the past.

But now the automaker is reportedly facing something new for the company: a criminal investigation by the Department of Justice into its self-driving claims.

Reuters reported today that several sources have confirmed the probe:

Tesla Inc is under criminal investigation in the United States over claims that the company’s electric vehicles can drive themselves, three people familiar with the matter said.

According to the report, the Justice Department is looking into “whether Tesla misled consumers, investors and regulators by making unsupported claims about its driver assistance technology’s capabilities.”

Tesla always said that its current driver assist features under its Autopilot or Full Self-Driving Beta packages require constant monitoring and drivers need to be ready to take control at all time.

However, the company and CEO Elon Musk specifically have been criticized for marketing the features in a way that can be confusing to the public.

Reuters writes in the report:

The Justice Department investigation potentially represents a more serious level of scrutiny because of the possibility of criminal charges against the company or individual executives, the people familiar with the inquiry said.

The report also notes that there are competing investigations involving Tesla and Musk.

Electrek’s Take

Let’s preface this by adding the classic disclaimer that I’m not a lawyer, but this sounds serious.

In terms of liability regarding accidents, Tesla has always been fairly careful in adding a lot of warnings through the activation of any driver-assist features.

I do think that buyers have a case against Tesla over the company not delivering on the promises of Full Self-Driving. But that’s going to be settled through civil litigation. There is already a class action lawsuit filed last month.

I don’t know how criminal charges could apply, but again, I’m not a lawyer.

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