SEC, DOJ investigate Tesla’s statements about Autopilot functionality

WASHINGTON — Federal prosecutors and securities regulators are investigating whether Tesla. Inc.

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It misled consumers and investors about how the advanced driver assistance system worked, according to a person familiar with the matter.

The Justice Department is looking into statements made by Tesla and its executives about the safety and functionality of the system known as Autopilot. The Securities and Exchange Commission is conducting a similar civil investigation, people familiar with the matter said.

Tesla did not respond to requests for comment.

The company’s Autopilot system is among the most well-known advanced driver assistance systems and is standard on new Teslas. The technology helps drivers with tasks like steering and keeping a safe distance from other vehicles on the highway, but it doesn’t make cars autonomous.

The US auto safety regulator and the California Department of Motor Vehicles are also stepping up scrutiny of Autopilot.

Tesla tells drivers using Autopilot to focus on the road and keep their hands on the wheel, but the company’s public messaging sometimes doesn’t follow that guidance. Some, including the California DMV, said the language Tesla used to describe the technology’s risks gave drivers a strong impression of its capabilities.

Tesla CEO Elon Musk said data recovered so far from the fatal crash in Houston showed the car’s Autopilot system was “not active.” Local authorities said they believe no one was in the driver’s seat of the Tesla Model S when it crashed into the tree. Photo: Scott J. Engle/Reuters

The DOJ’s criminal investigation involves authorities in Washington and San Francisco. The SEC has the authority to civilly enforce investor protection laws.

The SEC’s investigation has not been previously reported. Reuters previously reported on the Justice Department’s criminal investigation.

A Justice Department spokeswoman and an SEC spokeswoman declined to comment.

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, the federal auto safety regulator, launched an investigation into Autopilot last year after emergency stops at the scene of a number of accidents involving Teslas and first responders. The agency recently expanded that investigation. This summer, the California DMV accused Tesla of falsely advertising its cars as autonomous. Tesla requested a hearing on the matter, records show.

Tesla has said that driving a car with Autopilot is safer than driving without it. While some researchers have criticized Tesla’s methodology, the company points to internal data showing fewer accidents when drivers use Autopilot.

The SEC and Department of Justice have a long history of investigations into Tesla and its CEO, Elon Musk. In 2018, Tesla settled an investigation into how Mr. Musk had misled shareholders through Twitter statements and plans to take the company private for $420 a share.

Tesla and Mr. Musk settled the lawsuits for $20 million each, and Mr. Musk was forced to step down as chairman of the company. He also agreed to have company lawyers pre-approve any tweets related to material information such as Tesla’s new products, performance, forecasts and potential acquisitions or mergers.

Tesla said in its securities filings that federal prosecutors are also looking into Mr. Musk’s personal tweets and corporate disclosures about production rates for its Model 3 car. Prosecutors have not requested more information on those matters since Tesla last provided records in May 2019, the company said.

The SEC also investigated Mr. Musk’s late disclosure of his personal stake in Twitter. Inc.,

also obtained Tesla stock sales by Mr. Musk and his brother Kimbal Musk, as Mr. Musk questioned on Twitter whether he should offload his 10% stake in the electric carmaker.

write to Dave Michaels at and Rebecca Elliott at

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It appeared in print on October 28, 2022 under the title “US Investigates Tesla Statements on Autopilot”.

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