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California administrative judge rules Tesla must face false advertising claims over Autopilot

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A recent development in the ongoing legal battle between Tesla and the California Department of Motor Vehicles has seen a setback for the electric carmaker. A California administrative judge, Judge Juliet Cox, rejected Tesla’s attempt to dismiss the lawsuit filed by the DMV. The lawsuit accuses Tesla of falsely marketing its vehicles’ self-driving capabilities, specifically the Autopilot and Full Self-Driving Technology features. If found guilty, Tesla could face consequences such as the suspension of its license to sell vehicles in California and the requirement to make restitution to Tesla owners in the state.

The lawsuit, filed in July 2022, alleges that Tesla’s vehicles were not and are not capable of operating as autonomous vehicles as advertised. Despite Tesla’s argument that a formal hearing was unnecessary due to the already available documents, Judge Cox ruled that it was premature to dismiss the case before a formal hearing. The DMV’s claims will be formally reviewed before the OAH on September 9. This latest development comes amidst a series of legal challenges for Tesla regarding its self-driving technology.

In a separate case, a San Francisco federal judge recently rejected Tesla’s attempt to dismiss a proposed nationwide class action lawsuit that claims the company misled consumers about the capabilities of their vehicles’ self-driving technology. Tesla CEO Elon Musk, who relocated the company’s headquarters from California to Texas in 2021, has faced federal probes regarding the role of Tesla’s self-driving technology in fatal car crashes. In April, Tesla settled a lawsuit over a 2018 fatal crash involving an Apple engineer who was using Autopilot when the vehicle crashed into a barrier.

Tesla describes its Autopilot feature as an “advanced driver assistance system” that can assist with steering and match the speed of surrounding traffic on cruise control. The Full Self-Driving Capability promises to allow the car to “drive itself almost anywhere with minimal driver intervention.” However, Tesla also warns that Autopilot does not make the vehicle autonomous and that drivers must still pay attention to the road. Features of the self-driving technology include guidance on highway on-ramp and off-ramps, automatic lane changes, and obedience to traffic signals.

The legal challenges facing Tesla highlight the growing scrutiny around self-driving technology and the need for companies to be transparent about the capabilities and limitations of such features. As regulators and consumers continue to raise questions about the safety and reliability of autonomous vehicles, companies like Tesla must prioritize accuracy in their marketing and ensure that they are meeting legal and ethical standards in the development and deployment of self-driving technology. The outcome of the legal battles between Tesla and the California DMV will have significant implications for the future of self-driving technology and the responsibilities of companies in the automotive industry.

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