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  • According to a report from Reuters, American EV giant Tesla is now facing a criminal investigation from the Department of Justice.
  • The criminal investigation joins a series of probes into the company from both the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) and the California Department of Motor Vehicles.
  • Tesla’s Full Self Driving (FSD) option now costs $15,000 but has not reached regulatory approval.

EV maker Tesla is under criminal investigation from the U.S. Department of Justice over its claims that its cars are “Full Self Driving.” That news comes in an article just published by the Reuters news service, which cited unnamed sources it described as “three people familiar with the matter.” The report says the feds have been conducting the investigation since 2021 after more than a dozen crashes were suspected of being related to Tesla’s self-driving technology.

According to the Reuters story, the Justice Department’s prosecutors will be looking to discover “whether Tesla misled consumers, investors, and regulators by making unsupported claims about its driver assistance technology’s capabilities.” The investigation could culminate in criminal charges, civil penalties, or the end of the matter, depending on what they find out, Reuters said.

Controversial from the Start

Tesla has come under fire from many quarters over the implication that its vehicles can drive themselves, given the company’s use of the name “Full Self Driving.” Because Tesla’s Full Self Driving system relies on the driver of the vehicle to remain alert at all times, it is effectively a Level 2 driver-assist technology, not fully automated.

However, it could be argued that Tesla has allowed customers to believe otherwise. For instance, a video on the Tesla Autopilot website reads: “The person in the driver’s seat is only there for legal reasons. He is not doing anything. The car is driving itself.” Further down, the website reads, “Autopilot enables your car to steer, accelerate, and brake automatically within its lane. Current Autopilot features require active driver supervision and do not make the vehicle autonomous.”

Tesla does warn drivers that they must remain alert even with Autopilot activated. This, Reuters speculates, may protect Tesla in the Justice Department probe.

What the warnings do not seem to do is keep drivers from paying less attention to the road. A study conducted by MIT last year found that drivers using Autopilot remove their eyes from the road for longer, and more often than when they are not using the system.

The criminal investigation from the DOJ is not the first investigation Tesla is facing over Autopilot and FSD. NHTSA opened a probe into over 800,000 Teslas with Autopilot in June of this year, and in July, the California DMV accused the company of falsely advertising the capabilities of its driver-assist features.

preview for How Capable Is Tesla's Autopilot Driver-Assist System? We Put It to the Test

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