Tesla Must Face False Advertising Case Over Autopilot and Full Self-Driving

Tesla has lost its attempt to have a case by the California Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) thrown out of court. A judge on Monday ruled that the case, which alleges Tesla’s advertisements for its “Autopilot” and “Full Self-Driving” (FSD) features were misleading, must proceed.

The California DMV launched its investigation into Tesla’s marketing practices in 2021. The core of the DMV’s argument is that Tesla’s public statements about its self-driving technologies created unrealistic expectations among consumers. Despite Tesla’s numerous disclosures that both Autopilot and FSD require constant driver supervision, the DMV contends that the promotional materials suggested these systems were more advanced than they actually are.

Tesla attempted to have the case dismissed, arguing that its statements were protected under the First Amendment’s free speech provisions and that the capabilities of its driver-assist features were adequately explained to consumers.

However, the administrative judge ruled that the case must go to trial, emphasizing that false advertising is not shielded by free speech protections. (via Reuters)

The primary issue lies in the terminology used by Tesla. “Autopilot” and “Full Self-Driving” have been criticized for implying a higher level of autonomy than what is currently achievable. Tesla’s Autopilot is an advanced driver-assistance system that can steer, accelerate, and brake within its lane, but it still requires drivers to remain attentive and ready to take over at any time. The FSD package includes additional features such as the ability to recognize and respond to traffic signals, make lane changes, and navigate city streets, but it too requires active driver supervision.

This ruling is the latest setback for Tesla as it relates to Autopilot and FSD and potentially misleading consumers. In May, a federal judge ruled that Tesla must face a class-action lawsuit from consumers who allege they were misled about the self-driving capabilities of their vehicles. Additionally, the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) is investigating whether Tesla’s statements about FSD constituted securities fraud.

The legal challenges extend to individual consumer complaints as well. In the UK, Tesla settled with an owner who alleged Tesla failed to deliver promised software capabilities. Tesla paid the owner approximately C$12,200 to settle the case.

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