U.S. Justice Department Asked Tesla for Documents on Driver Assistance Features
The U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) requested documents from Tesla related to the company’s Autopilot and so-called “Full Self-Driving” features, according to a Tesla financial filing submitted Tuesday. In part of Tesla’s most recent quarterly report to investors and the Securities and Exchange Commission, the company included updates on current litigation actions against and investigations into the company (of which there are multiple).
Previously, reports from October 2022 indicated that the DOJ had begun a criminal probe into Tesla, over its driver assistance technologies. This week’s filing confirms that the DOJ has demanded more information and documentation regarding that tech, from the company.
“To our knowledge no government agency in any ongoing investigation has concluded that any wrongdoing occurred,” Tesla wrote in its SEC filing. But that was where the company’s positive spin seemingly ended. “We cannot predict the outcome or impact of any ongoing matters. Should the government decide to pursue an enforcement action, there exists the possibility of a material adverse impact on our business, results of operation, prospects, cash flows and financial position,” the automaker noted.
According to an initial report from Reuters last October, the DOJ investigation is primarily concerned with whether or not Tesla has misled the public and its investors about the reliability and capability of its autonomous tech. And it’s not hard to see how people might’ve been misled.
The company has called its most advance driver assistance feature “Full Self Driving,” though it is not, in fact, fully self driving. Vehicles with the tech enabled still require a driver to be alert and in front of the steering wheel to control, and monitor the car, according to the company’s website. However, more than 40% of Tesla Autopilot users say they’re comfortable treating their vehicles as driverless, according to the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety.
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A recently passed law in California already aims to tackle Tesla’s confusing marketing. SB 1398 bans car manufacturers from advertising their products as fully autonomous if that’s not the case, and institutes penalties for violating the rule. That legislation went into effect January 1, 2023. However, as a state law, it’s unclear how it impacts the now Austin, Texas-based Tesla.
On top of being advertised in a potentially misleading way, Tesla’s Autopilot and driver assistance features have been linked to numerous crashes, some of which have been deadly. The National Highway Safety Administration (NHTSA) is currently investigating multiple collisions involving Tesla vehicles with driver assistance tech enabled.
Tesla also referenced that NHTSA investigation in its Tuesday filing, though didn’t share any specifics. “We routinely cooperate wih such regulatory and governmental requests, including subpoenas, formal and informal requests and other investigations and inquiries,” the company wrote.
But Tesla dissolved its PR department in 2020, so the company doesn’t routinely respond to journalist inquiries. Gizmodo reached out to Tesla via email with questions about the DOJ investigation, and did not receive a response.
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