Center for Auto Safety and Consumer Watchdog call on DMV to investigate deceptive Tesla marketing

Jason Levine, executive director of the Center for Auto Safety.
By CRM Staff
Los Angeles, California — May 30, 2018 — Allegations of misleading marketing have emerged against Tesla for its Autopilot feature. 
The Center for Auto Safety and Consumer Watchdog allege that statements by Tesla and Elon Musk violate California’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.
“Tesla has repeatedly exaggerated the driverless capabilities of its Autopilot technology, putting profits ahead of its own customers’ safety,” said Jason Levine, executive director of the Center for Auto Safety. “The California DMV must step in and stop this dangerous practice before more Americans are injured or killed.”
The groups’ call for action by the DMV came one day after a Tesla in Autopilot crashed into an unoccupied police car in Laguna Beach. The Tesla driver suffered minor injuries, but refused transportation to the hospital.
This complaint to the DMV also 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 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 marketing practices of Tesla, combined with 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 groups warned.
“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 Musk’s 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.

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