The California DMV Is Investigating Tesla Over Its Claims Of Full Self-Driving Cars

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Tesla recently admitted to the California Department of Motor Vehicles that its “full self-driving” beta software doesn’t actually turn a Tesla into a fully self-driving vehicle and might never do so. Unsurprisingly, calling something “full self-driving” and then telling the state of California that it isn’t any of those things has led to a DMV investigation into Tesla for misleading advertising.

Full Self-Driving Capability is a whopping $10,000 option Tesla buyers can add to their vehicle. Here’s how Tesla describes the difference between FSD and Autopilot, which has been around since 2014:

Autopilot is a suite of driver assistance features that can be purchased before you buy your car or after it’s been delivered, and brings new functionality to your Tesla that makes driving safer and less stressful. Available packages include:


  • Traffic-Aware Cruise Control: Matches the speed of your car to that of the surrounding traffic
  • Autosteer: Assists in steering within a clearly marked lane, and uses traffic-aware cruise control

Full Self-Driving Capability

  • Navigate on Autopilot (Beta): Actively guides your car from a highway’s on-ramp to off-ramp, including suggesting lane changes, navigating interchanges, automatically engaging the turn signal and taking the correct exit
  • Auto Lane Change: Assists in moving to an adjacent lane on the highway when Autosteer is engaged
  • Autopark: Helps automatically parallel or perpendicular park your car, with a single touch
  • Summon: Moves your car in and out of a tight space using the mobile app or key
  • Smart Summon: Your car will navigate more complex environments and parking spaces, maneuvering around objects as necessary to come find you in a parking lot.
  • Traffic and Stop Sign Control (Beta): Identifies stop signs and traffic lights and automatically slows your car to a stop on approach, with your active supervision
  • Upcoming:
  • Autosteer on city streets

The currently enabled features require active driver supervision and do not make the vehicle autonomous. The activation and use of these features are dependent on achieving reliability far in excess of human drivers as demonstrated by billions of miles of experience, as well as regulatory approval, which may take longer in some jurisdictions. As these self-driving features evolve, your car will be continuously upgraded through over-the-air software updates.


The difference between level 2 autonomy and level 3 is right there in the bit about “active driver supervision.” FSD has plenty of fancy capabilities that Autopilot does not, but it still requires a driver to stay attentive and take over at a moment’s notice, something humans are notoriously bad at. A level 3 car can engage in most driving actions with some sort of fail-safe in case the human behind the wheel isn’t paying attention to what is happening on the road.

The DMV is investigating to determine if Tesla violated DMV regulations regarding autonomous vehicle advertising, according to the LA Times. (Which can be found here in an outline of the California DMV’s autonomous vehicle testing guidelines on page 12.) Here’s what a DMV spokesperson told the Times:

If the DMV finds Tesla is misleading customers, potential penalties include suspension or revocation of DMV autonomous vehicle deployment permits and manufacture and dealer licenses, the DMV spokesperson said. She added that “a vehicle operating on public roads using autonomous technology without first obtaining a permit can be removed from the public roadway by a police officer.”

It’s unclear what the loss of autonomous testing permits entails since Tesla is currently Beta testing FSD via its own customers. Could the California DMV mean to punish Tesla owners if they are caught by police using Autopilot or FSD? Currently, level 2 autonomous driver assistance systems are allowed on California roads without the data reporting required of more advanced systems. We’ve reached out to the California DMV and will update if we know more.

This isn’t the first time that the name of Tesla’s driver assistance software has landed the company in hot water. Last summer, a German court ruled against Tesla on Autopilot, determining that the name gave customers a false impression of its vehicles’ capabilities. And the California DMV isn’t the only organization stateside that is putting pressure on Tesla. From the LA Times:

The Society of Automotive Engineers’ detailed J3016 standard for autonomous cars lists “self-driving” as a term that “can lead to confusion, misunderstanding, and diminished credibility” when describing levels of automated vehicles.

“Tesla seems to be asking for legal trouble on many fronts,” law professor Smith said. “From the FTC and its state counterparts for deceptive marketing. From the California DMV for, potentially, crossing into the realm of autonomous vehicle testing without state approval, from competitors with driver assistance systems, competitors with actual automated driving systems, ordinary consumers, and future crash victims who could sue under state or federal law.”

Tesla is facing hundreds of lawsuits. At least several deaths have been connected with use or misuse of Autopilot. NHTSA has more than 20 investigations open on Tesla, though how long they’ll take to be resolved, NHTSA won’t say. China, through its state-controlled media, has been drubbing Tesla for weeks with stories detailing crashes, brake issues and customer complaints about quality.


And customers have certainly misused the technology. One man recently was arrested and had his Tesla confiscated after he uploaded multiple videos of himself riding in the back seat of his Tesla with no driver. He claims to have covered 40,000 miles from the back seat. A deadly Tesla crash in Texas last month left two dead, and it seems likely that there was no one in the driver’s seat at the time.