United States Senator Ed Markey is back to casting stones in the direction of Tesla’s Autopilot, calling for the Federal Trade Commission to investigate “potentially deceptive marketing.”
Markey, a notable critic of Tesla’s Autopilot systems, has had a history of being skeptical and calling for investigations of the company’s semi-autonomous systems on several occasions in the past. Now, Markey, along with Senator Richard Blumenthal of Connecticut, penned a letter to Lina Khan, the head of the FTC, stating they are concerned about Tesla’s “advertising” of Autopilot.
“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,” the Senators wrote, according to the Wall Street Journal. “Their claims put Tesla drivers—and all of the traveling public—at risk of serious injury or death.”
Tesla has repeatedly overstated the capabilities of its Autopilot & Full Self Driving systems. These claims can endanger the safety of everyone on the road. @SenBlumenthal and I are calling on the FTC to investigate Tesla’s potentially deceptive marketing.https://t.co/77BtaIqvtM
— Ed Markey (@SenMarkey) August 18, 2021
Interestingly, Tesla’s statistics have shown Autopilot as an extremely safe alternative compared to human-controlled vehicles. Its most recent safety report had Autopilot-operating vehicles involved in accidents significantly less frequently than the national average.
The request from the Senators comes just days after the NHTSA launched an internal probe into around 765,000 Tesla vehicles built between 2014 and 2021. The root cause of the investigation concerns 11 incidents of Tesla vehicles crashing into emergency vehicles.
Tesla maintains that its Autopilot functionality is not a replacement for human driving altogether. The company states that drivers are required to remain attentive when operating with Autopilot and that they are required to remain alert to the vehicle’s operation and its surroundings.
On its website, under the FAQ section, a question, “Do I still need to pay attention while using Autopilot,” is listed. The company’s response is:
“Yes. Autopilot is a hands-on driver assistance system that is intended to be used only with a fully attentive driver. It does not turn a Tesla into a self-driving car nor does it make a car autonomous.”
Interestingly, several of the accidents under question were caused by the driver’s negligence operating the vehicle, including two cases where the driver was arrested for driving under the influence of alcohol. Another one of the cases involves a driver with a suspended license.
The Senators also included the notorious “Full Self-Driving” video that Tesla released in 2019, which shows a driver operating their vehicle without making any interventions. The video has over 18 million views on YouTube but does not reflect the vehicle’s current capabilities and is only a demonstration of what is to come from Tesla when it reaches Level 5 autonomy.
“As Tesla makes widely available its FSD and Autopilot technology and doubles down on its inflated promises, we are alarmed by the prospect of more drivers relying more frequently on systems that do not nearly deliver the expected level of safety,” the Senators wrote in their memo.