June 25, 2024

Investigation into Tesla Autopilot: NHTSA Prosecutors Target Securities and Wire Fraud

U.S. prosecutors investigate Tesla for misleading claims on self-driving technology

Prosecutors in the United States are looking into whether Tesla may have committed securities or wire fraud by providing false information to investors and consumers regarding the capabilities of its electric vehicles’ self-driving features. The investigation is centered around Tesla’s Autopilot and Full Self-Driving systems, which are designed to assist with steering, braking, and lane changes but are not fully autonomous. Despite warnings from Tesla to remain prepared to take control of the vehicle, authorities are examining statements made by the company and CEO Elon Musk that indicated the cars could drive themselves.

This inquiry comes in the midst of numerous investigations into crashes involving Tesla vehicles using Autopilot, including fatal accidents that prompted a large-scale recall by the automaker. The U.S. Justice Department has initiated a criminal investigation into Tesla, focusing on potential wire fraud related to deceptive communications across state lines, as well as securities fraud for misleading investors.

While the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) is also looking into Tesla’s disclosures about its driver-assistance systems, the company has not commented on the ongoing investigations. Tesla previously revealed that it had been asked by the Justice Department to provide information about Autopilot and Full Self-Driving in response to a subpoena.

The investigation is still ongoing, and prosecutors are reviewing a vast amount of documents provided by Tesla to determine their next steps. Despite the uncertainty, the probe could lead to criminal charges, civil penalties, or no action at all. It is crucial for prosecutors to distinguish between aspirational goals and intentional deception in determining potential legal violations.

Tesla’s assertions about its self-driving capabilities have been a focal point of scrutiny, with concerns raised about consumer safety and investor trust. The company’s emphasis on autonomous driving technology has been a key part of its strategy, especially as sales and profits have declined. However, the legal challenges surrounding these claims require a careful assessment of whether they constitute fraudulent misrepresentations.

While Tesla and Elon Musk have maintained a strong stance on the capabilities of their driver-assistance systems, the investigation will need to establish whether their statements went beyond mere optimism and crossed into misleading territory. The use of internal communications to demonstrate knowledge of falsehoods will be a critical factor in determining liability.


Q: What is the focus of the investigation into Tesla?

A: The investigation centers on whether Tesla misled investors and consumers about the capabilities of its self-driving technology, potentially leading to securities or wire fraud charges.

Q: How has Tesla responded to the investigation?

A: Tesla has not provided a comment on the ongoing investigations but disclosed that it had been asked for information by the Justice Department.

Q: What are the potential outcomes of the investigation?

A: The investigation could result in criminal charges, civil penalties, or no action, depending on the findings and legal implications of the case.


The investigation into Tesla’s self-driving technology claims highlights the complexities of balancing innovation with legal compliance and consumer safety. As authorities delve deeper into the allegations of deception, the outcome of the probe could have significant implications for the future of autonomous driving technology and the responsibilities of companies in this evolving industry.

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