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Tesla admits it was asked to hand over Autopilot, Full Self-Driving docs to investigators

Yes, we may end up being criminally charged, but we haven't been yet

Tesla has confirmed the Department of Justice asked it to hand over documents related to Autopilot and Tesla Full Self-Driving (FSD), as the US government's criminal probe into hype surrounding the software continues.

In its annual 10-K filing with the SEC, Tesla said it was subject to various legal proceedings, including the criminal investigation of Autopilot that was first reported in October. That inquiry is looking into whether Tesla misled consumers about the capabilities and safety of Autopilot and FSD, and whether it is culpable for the many fatal accidents the systems have been linked to.

While Tesla didn't explicitly state it had handed documents to the DoJ, it did say it "has received requests from the DOJ for documents related to Tesla's Autopilot and FSD features," and that it routinely cooperates "with such regulatory and governmental requests, including subpoenas, formal and informal requests and other investigations and inquiries."

Still, Tesla made sure to note that, as far as it was aware, "no government agency in any ongoing investigation has concluded that any wrongdoing occurred." Were that to happen, "there exists the possibility of a material adverse impact on our business, results of operation, prospects, cash flows and financial position," Tesla said. 

Everything's coming up Autopilot!

The DoJ's own investigation came hot on the heels of the upgrade of a National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) investigation into Autopilot after a series of accidents involving the system.

Like the DoJ's investigation, the NHTSA's own study was trying to determine if Tesla and Autopilot were causing drivers to get sloppy because of overconfidence or mislabeled technology.

Since the NHTSA began gathering accident statistics involving automated driver assist systems (ADAS) in June 2021, there have been 18 fatal accidents, all but one of which involved a Tesla. More broadly, Tesla vehicles are involved in 70 percent of ADAS-involved accidents, and that's not just because there are a lot more of them on the road – Tesla's ADAS crash rate per 1,000 vehicles is substantially higher than other systems, according to the NHTSA.

NHTSA acting head Ann Carlson said earlier this month that her agency's Autopilot investigation was moving fast, and that a lot of resources had been invested in addressing the concerns, though she didn't provide a time frame on when findings may be presented.

Whether the increased scrutiny is to blame or not, Autopilot doesn't appear to be the cutting-edge technology it was once considered to be either. In a recent review of ADAS software, Consumer Reports said Tesla fell from second best to seventh out of a dozen different platforms.

Its report said that Autopilot's basic functionality hasn't improved since launch, and that other companies are getting in the fast lane to innovate right past it.

As an example of that, Mercedes-Benz announced last week that it was the first automotive company to receive level 3 ADAS certification in the US – but only in Nevada. Mercedes-Benz describes level 3 in its press release as the ADAS function taking over certain tasks, but a driver must be ready to take control when prompted to intervene. Tesla Autopilot and Full Self-Driving, meanwhile, are still operating at level 2.

We asked Tesla to comment, and received a prompt reply: the company's press mailbox is full and no longer accepting new messages. ®

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