Tesla is Facing a Criminal Probe for Its Public Self-Driving System Claims: Report

The company could face criminal or civil penalties, though we'll have to wait for a determination in this case

The U.S. Justice Department launched a criminal investigation into Tesla’s autonomous driving claims, according to a new report.

Tesla‘s Autopilot and Full Self-Driving systems have again gained the attention of investigators regarding crashes. California and Federal safety regulators are criminally investigating the automaker for driver’s relying on the system with a false sense of security. Some drivers use the system as if it is truly autonomous, which it is not. No current system allows total self-driving capability without any human attention or intervention.

Tesla tells customers they must keep their hands on the wheel and maintain control of their vehicles while using Autopilot. However, that message has been undercut at some points by company founder and CEO Elon Musk. Musk recently stated on a call that “Full Self-Driving” software allows customers to travel “to your work, your friend’s house, to the grocery store without you touching the wheel.”

Per Reuters, whose reporters originally broke this story:

Barbara McQuade, a former U.S. attorney in Detroit who prosecuted automotive companies and employees in fraud cases and is not involved in the current probe, said investigators likely would need to uncover evidence such as emails or other internal communications showing that Tesla and Musk made misleading statements about Autopilot’s capabilities on purpose.


Those types of claims appear to be the focal point of the Justice Department’s probe. Some consumers say Tesla’s messaging is convoluted.

This follows a string of other investigations in recent years. Back in August 2021, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) launched an investigation into Autopilot-related crashes. In an ongoing case, the California Department of Motor Vehicles claims Tesla is using false advertisement regarding their Autopilot system. This is in addition to other legal action in which Tesla is currently engaged.

Officials conducting this investigation could pursue criminal charges or seek civil sanctions, as well as close the probe without any further action. At this point, the probe is ongoing and there have been no major actions of which we’re publicly aware beyond the investigation itself yet.

Tesla made no comment on the reported investigation, at time of writing. The automaker currently has no dedicated public relations team.