Tesla Admits Justice Department Is Investigating Autopilot and ‘Full Self-Driving’

Federal scrutiny of Tesla’s automated driving systems is increasing, and the Department of Justice’s involvement only turns up the heat.

byJames Gilboy|
Tesla products against a background of the US DOJ's seal
Tesla, Getty Images
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Tesla acknowledged in a filing with the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission that the Department of Justice has requested documents relating to its Autopilot and Full Self-Driving programs as numerous investigations into its automated driving systems mount.

The document, which was filed by Tesla to the SEC, states that Tesla "has received requests from the DOJ for documents related to Tesla's Autopilot and FSD features." It added that "enforcement action" pertaining to ongoing investigations could negatively affect its business.

Tesla Model 3, S, and Y (left to right). Tesla

Tesla faces multiple investigations into problems with its advanced driving assist systems, mainly Autopilot and Full Self-Driving. The company admitted to California regulators that its full self-driving software isn't, and will remain an SAE Level 2 autonomous driving system that CEO Elon Musk has said "could do the wrong thing at the worst time."

This contradicts a video from 2016 when Tesla released a video claiming "the car is driving itself," which was recently revealed to have been staged on orders from Musk. Tesla's website says that FSD "do[es] not make the vehicle autonomous" and that all its ADAS systems require drivers to remain attentive with their hands on the steering wheel.

Tesla Model 3, Y. Tesla

Tesla's driving assists are currently under investigation by the NHTSA after a string of collisions with emergency vehicles. As of June 2022, the inquiry had reached the phase of Engineering Investigation, just one step from a formal recall. A separate investigation seeks to determine the cause of a sharp increase in "phantom braking," where Tesla's vehicles may slam on their brakes with no collision hazard present.

Tesla was previously condemned by the NTSB for "completely inadequate" driver monitoring systems that it attributed in part to the fatal crash of Apple engineer Walter Huang. Last week, subpar driver monitoring hampered Tesla's score in Consumer Reports' ADAS test, where Autopilot fell to seventh of 12 commercially available ADAS systems.

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