California accuses Tesla of false advertising over Autopilot

DMV goes after manufacturer and dealer licenses

The California Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) last month filed two complaints against Tesla alleging that the car marker violated state law by misrepresenting that its vehicles can drive autonomously.

The complaints [1, 2] [PDF] were filed with the Golden State' Office of Administrative Hearings (OAH) and allege that the company violated its manufacturer and dealer Occupational Licenses.

At least five times between May 28 and July 12 last year, the complaints assert, Tesla made misleading statements about its advanced driver assistance system (ADAS) using terms like "Autopilot" and "Full Self-Driving Capability," in conjunction with claims that the system can navigate to a destination "with no action required by the person in the driver's seat."

"Instead of simply identifying product or brand names, these 'Autopilot' and 'Full Self-Driving Capability' labels and descriptions represent that vehicles equipped with the ADAS features will operate as an autonomous vehicle, but vehicles equipped with those ADAS features could not at the time of those advertisements, and cannot now, operate as autonomous vehicles," the complaints say.

Tesla's Full Self-Driving Capability (FSD) is an upgrade from Enhanced Autopilot, which in turn is an upgrade from Autopilot. All are currently considered SAE Level 2 driving automation, and thus require active supervision.

The DMV says that Tesla has issued disclaimers about the capabilities of its cars, like one published June 28, 2022, that states, "The currently enabled features require active driver supervision and do not make the vehicle autonomous." However, the agency considers this insufficient to "cure the violation."

Tesla has until the end of this week to respond by filing a Notice of Defense if the company wishes to challenge the accusations. Otherwise, the matter will be resolved by a default decision.

If Tesla chooses to respond, there will be discovery and response filings, leading to a hearing before an OAH administrative law judge. And if Tesla dislikes the result, it has the option to file an appeal in Superior Court.

"The actions are separate from the ongoing review of the intended design and technological capabilities of Tesla vehicles," a DMV spokesperson said in an email to The Register. "Because this review is ongoing, the DMV cannot discuss it until it is complete."

Tesla did not respond to a request for comment.

In June, the US National Transportation and Highway Safety Administration expanded its investigation of Tesla's ADAS to an engineering analysis amid a broader inquiry into a dozen other automakers' ADAS systems that began last year.

According to the NHTSA, 367 crashes [PDF] involving Level 2 ADAS-equipped vehicles occurred from July 2021 to May 15, 2022. Of these 273 involved Teslas, 90 involved Hondas, and 10 involved Subarus. One hundred twenty-five of the Level 2 ADAS crashes occurred in California.

In April, during a TED conference interview, Tesla CEO Elon Musk said the company had surpassed 100,000 people in its FSD beta program. Musk three months earlier endorsed a tweet that claimed, "There has not been one accident or injury since FSD beta launch," which began in October, 2020.

The supposed absence of accidents during ADAS usage may be the result of intentional disengagement – automated systems disabling themselves moments before impact. NHTSA is looking into 16 accidents involving Autopilot in which Tesla vehicles struck parked emergency vehicles. In its report [PDF], the NHTSA said, "On average in these crashes, Autopilot aborted vehicle control less than one second prior to the first impact. " ®

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