Tesla subpoenaed by Justice Department for full autonomy

The U.S. Department of Justice has requested documents from Tesla related to its autopilot and “full self-driving” capabilities, according to a filing with the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) released Tuesday.

In the filing, which was reported by multiple media outlets, Tesla confirmed that the Justice Department had requested documents, but said it did not expect prosecution.

“To our knowledge, no government agency has concluded in an ongoing investigation that any wrongdoing has occurred,” Tesla said in the filing.

2023 Tesla Model X - Courtesy of Tesla, Inc.

2023 Tesla Model X – Courtesy of Tesla, Inc.

Tesla has come under criticism several times over the years for its driver assistance features, most notably “Full Self-Driving,” which, despite the name, doesn’t allow a car to drive itself. The head of the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) called the 2021 label “misleading and irresponsible,” and California has ruled it illegal.

Autopilot is Tesla’s standard driver assistance feature and is essentially adaptive cruise control that can also steer itself in a single lane. “Full Self-Driving” adds features including the ability to automatically overtake slower vehicles, automatically react to traffic lights and stop signs, and handle some parking situations. It also includes Smart Summon, which brings the car to the driver in parking lots as long as the driver has the vehicle in view.

Tesla began offering “Full Self-Driving” as a hardware bundle in 2016, claiming later software updates would unlock true self-driving capabilities. CEO Elon Musk said at the time he expected a Tesla to be able to drive from Los Angeles to New York “without the need for a single touch” of the steering wheel as early as 2017.

2023 Tesla Model 3

2023 Tesla Model 3

That never happened, though Tesla began offering the system to all customers in an unfinished “beta” form (it was initially only available to select customers) and steadily increased the price. The feature cost $5,000 when it launched in 2016, but Tesla bumped the price up to $10,000 in 2020, $12,000 in 2022, and finally $15,000 later in the year. A subscription option was also added in 2021.

Angry Tesla owners filed a class-action lawsuit against the automaker in September 2022 for failing to deliver on promises of “complete self-driving.” Tesla’s lawyers later reportedly argued that the failure to deliver self-driving cars was not fraud and called for the lawsuit to be dismissed.