Jan 31, 2023 - Economy

Justice Department probes Tesla over self-driving car system

The interior of a Tesla vehicle showing a steering wheel and a large upright touchscreen

Tesla's Autopilot feature enables cars to steer, brake and accelerate on their own. Photo: Sjoerd van der Wal/Getty Images

The Department of Justice has asked Tesla for information about its self-driving car system, the automaker confirmed Tuesday.

Why it matters: Tesla's Autopilot technology — which enables cars to steer, brake and accelerate on their own — has drawn a legion of fans as well as scrutiny from regulators over what it can and can't do.

Driving the news: "The company has received requests from the DOJ for documents related to Tesla’s Autopilot and FSD features," Tesla said in a public filing, referring to its "full self-driving" capability.

  • "To our knowledge no government agency in any ongoing investigation has concluded that any wrongdoing occurred," Tesla added.
  • The Justice Department, which typically does not discuss ongoing investigations, did not immediately respond to a request seeking comment.
  • Reuters reported in October that it's a criminal investigation.

Zoom out: Autopilot has been under fire for years from auto safety watchdogs who say the system inspires too much faith in users who don't understand its shortcomings.

  • The company's past claims about the system's capabilities also came under fresh scrutiny earlier this month when a Tesla engineer testified in court that a 2016 video "used to promote its self-driving technology was staged to show capabilities like stopping at a red light and accelerating at a green light that the system did not have," Reuters reported.

The other side: Musk told investors last week in a conference call that "we still don't even know really who would even be a distant second" to Tesla on self-driving technology.

  • "I mean, right now I don't think you could see second place with a telescope," he said. "At least we can't."
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