California DMV accuses Tesla of false advertising

The California Department of Motor Vehicles has accused Tesla of false advertising in its promotion of the company’s signature Autopilot and Full Self-Driving technology.

The agency alleges that the electric car maker misled customers with advertising language on its website that described Autopilot and Full Self-Driving technologies as more capable than they actually are.

The company “made or disseminated statements that are false or misleading, and not based on fact,”[ads1]; the DMV said in a pair of complaints filed with the state’s Office of Administrative Hearings on July 28.

The DMV complaints point to the very names of the technologies, as well as other “misleading” language such as the following, which appears on the Tesla website’s Autopilot page:

“All you have to do is get in and tell your car where you’re going. If you don’t say anything, your car will look at your calendar and take you there as the assumed destination. Your Tesla will figure out the optimal route, navigate in urban streets, complex intersections and motorways.”

The remedies proposed by the DMV if it prevails could be severe, including revoking the company’s licenses to make or sell its cars in California. But actual remedies are likely to be much softer.

A DMV spokesperson said Friday via email that if the action is successful, “the DMV will request that Tesla be required to advertise to consumers and better educate Tesla drivers about the capabilities of ‘Autopilot’ and ‘Full Self-Driving'” features, including cautionary warnings regarding the limitations of the features, and for other actions as necessary given the violations.”

In June, Tesla CEO Elon Musk emphasized the importance of Full Self-Driving for the company. Without it, Tesla’s “value is basically zero,” he said.

The Full Self-Driving feature costs $12,000 and claims to automatically steer the car on highways, city streets and neighborhood roads; automatically obey traffic signals; and roam around a driverless parking lot to park itself.

Despite the name, no car available for purchase by individuals capable of driving fully autonomously from Tesla or any other company.

Tesla cars could never, “and cannot now, operate as autonomous vehicles,” the DMV claims.

The DMV notes that Tesla’s website states that “the currently enabled features require active driver monitoring and do not make the vehicle autonomous.”

But, the DMV said, the disclaimer “contradicts the original false or misleading labels and claims, which are misleading and do not cure the violation.”

Tesla’s driver-assist technologies have been popular features that help the automaker stand out in an increasingly crowded electric car market. But YouTube videos showing their systems placing cars in dangerous situations have drawn attention, including near-head-on collisions with trucks and trains that require a driver to pull the steering wheel to avoid a crash. A video appears to show Tesla’s sensor system mistaking the moon for a traffic light stuck on yellow.

Autopilot, a less expensive feature that combines automatic cruise control with automatic steering and automatic lane keeping, was investigated by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration when Teslas showed a pattern of plowing into emergency vehicles parked on the side of the road.

It is unclear how many accidents involve Full Self-Driving technology, and whether any of these accidents have resulted in death or injury. Tesla’s onboard computers are able to communicate this information over the air to Tesla, but the company does not share this data with the public.

Recently, Musk claimed that Full Self-Driving had not been a factor in any Tesla crashes, although at least eight crash reports submitted by Tesla owners to federal safety regulators indicate otherwise.

Tesla’s response to the DMV complaints, if any, has not yet been made public. Tesla has no media relations office. Musk did not respond to an invitation to tell Tesla’s side of the story.

State Sen. Lena Gonzalez (D-Long Beach), who chairs the Transportation Committee, called the DMV’s allegations against Tesla “extremely troubling.”

“It is extremely important that the technology’s limitations are presented in the most understandable way to best protect public safety on our roads across California,” she said.

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