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Senators call for investigation into Tesla’s marketing of self-driving vehicle features

The lawmakers argue that Tesla overstates the capabilities of these technologies

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Photo (c) bankkgraphy - Getty Images
Two Democratic senators have sent a letter to the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) asking for an investigation into Tesla’s marketing of its Autopilot and Full Self-Driving (FSD) features. 

Sens. Richard Blumenthal of Connecticut and Ed Markey of Massachusetts alleged in Wednesday’s letter that Tesla employs “potentially deceptive and unfair practices” in its advertising of the technologies. 

“We fear that Tesla’s Autopilot and FSD features are not as mature and reliable as the company pitches to the public,” the senators wrote. “Tesla drivers listen to these claims and believe their vehicles are equipped to drive themselves — with potentially deadly consequences.”

Crashes and other incidents 

The lawmakers’ letter comes just a few days after the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration announced the launch of a probe into Tesla’s Autopilot system. 

The agency said it has reason to believe that the automated system has difficulty spotting parked emergency vehicles, particularly at night. In recent months, Tesla’s have crashed into vehicles that had flashing lights, flares, and other features. 

“Most incidents took place after dark and the crash scenes encountered included scene control measures such as first responder vehicle lights, flares, an illuminated arrow board, and road cones,” the NHTSA said. “The involved subject vehicles were all confirmed to have been engaged in either Autopilot or Traffic Aware Cruise Control during the approach to the crashes.”

Not fully autonomous

Tesla has stated that its Autopilot and “Full Self-Driving” systems still require a human driver to be behind the wheel who is ready to take over if necessary. But the senators argued that Tesla’s marketing of the technologies is misaligned with its actual capabilities. 

CEO Elon Musk’s “tepid precautions tucked away on social media are no excuse for misleading drivers and endangering the lives of everyone on the road,” the senators said. 

“Tesla and Mr. Musk’s repeated overstatements of their vehicle’s capabilities — despite clear and frequent warnings — demonstrate a deeply concerning disregard for the safety of those on the road and require real accountability,” they wrote. “Their claims put Tesla drivers — and all of the travelling public — at risk of serious injury or death. 

The lawmakers then called on the FTC to launch a formal investigation into the matter.

“In light of these concerns, we urge you to swiftly open an investigation into Tesla’s repeated and overstated claims about their Autopilot and Full Self-Driving features and take appropriate enforcement action to prevent further injury or death as a result of any Tesla feature.”

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