Center for Auto Safety and Consumer Watchdog Request California Department of Motor Vehicles Investigation into Deceptive Tesla “Autopilot”

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
May 30, 2018
Contact: Jason Levine, jlevine@autosafety.org, (202) 328-7700
John M. Simpson, john@consumerwatchdog.org, (310) 292-1902

Center for Auto Safety and Consumer Watchdog Call on DMV to Investigate Deceptive Tesla “Autopilot” Marketing; Charge Statements Violate New Autonomous Vehicle Regulations

The Center for Auto Safety and Consumer Watchdog called on the California Department of Motor Vehicles today to investigate the dangerously misleading, deceptive marketing practices and representations made by Tesla Motors, Inc. regarding the safety and capabilities of its Autopilot feature.

The two groups charged that statements by Tesla and Tesla Chairman Elon Musk violate the state’s newly enacted Autonomous Vehicle Regulations. Those rules say a company cannot make statements leading people to believe a vehicle is autonomous when it does not meet the definition of autonomous vehicle spelled out in the regulations, which took effect earlier this year.

This complaint to the DMV comes one week after the public interest groups asked the Federal Trade Commission to investigate whether Tesla is in violation of federal law for these same deceptive practices. At least two people are dead and one is injured in the United States as a result of Tesla misleading consumers into believing its vehicles’ Autopilot feature is safer and more capable than it is in reality, the groups said in a letter to California DMV Director Jean Shiomoto.

After studying the first of these fatal accidents, the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) determined that over-reliance on, and a lack of understanding of, the Autopilot feature can lead to death, the groups noted. The marketing practices of Tesla, combined with CEO Musk’s public statements, have made it reasonable for Tesla owners to believe, and act on the belief, that a Tesla with Autopilot is an autonomous vehicle capable of “self-driving,” the letter warned.

“Tesla has repeatedly exaggerated the driverless capabilities of its Autopilot technology, putting profits ahead of its own customers’ safety,” said Center for Auto Safety Executive Director Jason Levine, “The California DMV must step in and stop this dangerous practice before more Americans are injured or killed.”

“Starting with the very name ‘Autopilot’, Tesla has consistently and deceptively over-hyped its technology,” said John M. Simpson, Consumer Watchdog’s Privacy and Technology Project Director. “If accurately, responsibly marketed in a way that consumers could understand, Tesla’s technology could enhance safety. Instead, it’s killing people.”

Tesla’s marketing of its Autopilot feature violates California law because a company cannot make statements leading consumers to believe a vehicle is autonomous, when it does not meet the definition of autonomous vehicle spelled out in new regulations. Tesla’s Autopilot – despite the company’s hype – does not meet the definition.

Moreover, Tesla’s statements are likely to mislead consumers into reasonably believing that their vehicles have self-driving or autonomous capabilities, the groups said. Consumers operating under this illusion behave differently than they would if they understood that Autopilot was merely a driver assistance feature that requires them to constantly monitor the driving environment and be ready to

take control of the vehicle without notice. Both Tesla’s and Elon Musk’s public statements regarding Autopilot have contributed to this confusion.

The burden now falls on the California DMV to investigate and act to halt Tesla’s unfair and deceptive practices so that consumers have accurate information, understand the limitations of Autopilot, and operate their vehicle safely and without endangering themselves or other drivers, passengers, or pedestrians on the road, the groups said. The Center for Auto Safety and Consumer Watchdog urge the California DMV to conduct a timely investigation and act decisively to prevent further tragedies.

Read the Center for Auto Safety and Consumer Watchdog’s letter to California DMV Director Jean Shiomoto.

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Over the last 48 years, the Center for Auto Safety has successfully led the fight for lemon laws in every state, airbags in every vehicle, and recall repairs being made at no cost to the consumer. The Center is a membership-driven organization headquartered in Washington, DC and is also home to the Safe Climate Campaign, which fights global warming by working for big, specific measures to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. The Center is also the publisher of The Car Book, which has for the last 38 years been America’s most comprehensive car buying guide, now available online at TheCarBook.com, featuring online safety ratings on used and new cars. To learn more about the Center, please visit AutoSafety.org.

Established in 1985, Consumer Watchdog is a nationally recognized non-partisan, non-profit organization representing the interests of taxpayers and consumers. Its mission is to provide an effective voice for the public interest. Consumer Watchdog’s programs include health care reform, oversight of insurance rates, energy policy, protecting privacy rights, promoting auto safety, protecting legal rights, corporate reform, and political accountability. To learn more about Consumer Watchdog, please visit ConsumerWatchdog.org.

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