Since 2016, you can hear statements from Elon Musk and Tesla about fully autonomous control (Full Self Driving, FSD) of electric cars. Even then, Musk said that such a mode “may be better” than a person behind the wheel. And last week, Musk added that the next update of FSD will allow you to get “to work, to friends or to the store without touching the steering wheel at all.”
“A person is in the driver’s seat only for legitimate reasons. They don’t have to do anything. The car drives itself,” says the video on the company’s website.
But you can also find lines on the site that indicate the need to keep your hands on the steering wheel and be ready to take control at any moment. Tesla’s systems are designed to assist with steering, braking, cruise control and lane change and “do not make the car autonomous.”
It is precisely such warnings that complicate the work of the Ministry of Justice, which, it turns out, has been investigating more than a dozen traffic accidents (including fatal ones) involving Tesla cars with autopilot enabled since last year.
This is reported by Reuters with reference to three people familiar with the case.
Musk himself said in an interview with Automotive News in 2020 that such cases are related to the fact that drivers use the system in violation of the company’s instructions.
So federal and California safety regulators have been cracking down on self-driving claims that can give users a false sense of security for some time. This could potentially lead to criminal charges against the company and its executives. Prosecutors in Washington and San Francisco are already working on the case. This can result in criminal charges or civil penalties, or the investigation can simply be closed without further action.
While the company does provide guidance on exactly how drivers should behave when using FSD, the Ministry is also unable to recommend any action yet because this investigation could compete with two other cases involving the electric car manufacturer. According to a Reuters source, investigators still have a lot of work to do.
Tesla and Elon Musk do not comment on the situation. Similarly, the spokesman of the Ministry of Justice refused to comment.
This is not an isolated case of potential problems for the company due to autopilot. Last August, the US National Highway Traffic Safety Administration opened an investigation into a series of road accidents (with one fatality) involving Tesla cars driven by Autopilot. And in July of this year, the California Department of Motor Vehicles charged Tesla with falsely advertising the Autopilot feature. The company’s representatives are demanding a court hearing, and the Department responded that the case is currently at the opening stage.