Tesla Counters California DMV Allegations, Asserts Free Speech Rights and Implicit Approval in Autopilot Branding Dispute

Tesla has fired back at the California Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV), asserting that the allegations of misrepresentation of Autopilot’s capabilities violate the company’s free speech rights under the First Amendment of the United States Constitution. The company is also contending the agency had already approved of the usage of these terms based on their past actions, or more appropriately, non-action.

Tesla’s legal response, filed with California’s Office of Administrative Hearings, comes more than a year after the DMV accused Tesla of marketing Autopilot as a full self-driving platform rather than an advanced driver assist system (ADAS). Tesla takes a unique approach by challenging the constitutionality of the DMV’s case. Instead of directly refuting the allegations, Tesla’s lawyers argue that the case should be dismissed as it infringes upon the company’s right to truthful and non-misleading speech about its vehicles and features.

Tesla contends that the regulations imposed by the DMV restrict its First Amendment right to communicate honestly about Autopilot. While the document doesn’t explicitly clarify what constitutes “truthful and non-misleading speech,” Tesla aims to shield itself from accusations related to Autopilot’s capabilities.

That wasn’t Tesla’s only defense, also challenging the DMV on multiple fronts. The automaker says the agency is infringing on its rights to a jury trial, as guaranteed by the Seventh Amendment of the U.S. Constitution and Article I, Section 16 of California’s Constitution. The company argues that the case should be heard by a panel of citizens, not just an administrative law judge.

Tesla further contends that the DMV lacks the right to prosecute for false advertising since it was aware of Tesla’s use of brand names like Autopilot and Full Self-Driving Capability since their inception in 2014 and 2016, respectively. The company asserts that the DMV had previously investigated its ADAS advertising in 2014 and 2017, choosing not to take action.

Interestingly, Tesla claims that California removed terms like “self-driving,” “automated,” and “auto-pilot” from its regulations, implying there’s no explicit prohibition against using such language in advertisements. However, the ambiguity arises as the state’s regulations caution against using terms that might mislead people into believing a vehicle is truly autonomous.

Tesla is now seeking a hearing to have the case dismissed with prejudice.

You can read Tesla’s full response below.

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