Consumer Watchdog Asks California DMV To Expedite Rule Banning Misleading Robot Car Advertising

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SANTA MONICA, CA – Consumer Watchdog has petitioned the California Department of Motor Vehicles to immediately start a formal rulemaking to expedite a proposed regulation banning misleading advertising that leaves the dangerous – and sometimes fatal – impression that a car is more capable of driving itself than is actually the case.

The nonpartisan nonprofit public interest group referred the DMV to its new video documenting how Tesla hyped its vehicles’ “Autopilot” feature, clearly leaving the false impression the cars were self-driving.

In a letter to DMV Director Jean Shiomoto Consumer Watchdog’s Privacy Project Director John M. Simpson wrote:

“Tesla, with its promotion of its so-called ‘Autopilot’ feature, is a prime example of the deadly consequences of such unjustified hype. Chairman Elon Musk has repeatedly extolled the Tesla’s self-driving virtues to clearly leave the impression that the vehicle is autonomous.”

View Consumer Watchdog’s letter here:

“Two drivers who were misled by Tesla’s Autopilot hype, one in China and one in Florida, are dead after fatal crashes,” the letter continued. “Tesla’s response now, in direct contradiction to Musk’s ‘Look Mom, No Hands’ hype, has been that the drivers should have been paying attention and should have had their hands on the steering wheel.”

View Consumer Watchdog’s video here:

DMV proposed new draft autonomous vehicle regulations in September that would protect consumers with a section that provides that “a vehicle cannot be advertised as autonomous in California unless it meets the definition of ‘autonomous’ specified in Vehicle Code §38750 and the autonomous vehicle regulations.”

The key safety provision safety provision was only a small part of a larger autonomous vehicle regulation package, Consumer Watchdog noted, and because of the complexity of the entire package, the necessary formal rule-making to implement it will likely be time consuming. The package of regulations probably will not take effect for at least a year.

“That is too long to wait to stop Tesla and its CEO from risking even more lives by falsely promoting Autopilot technology as self-driving. Currently there is nothing to stop the sort of hype spouted by Elon Musk with its potentially deadly consequences,” Consumer Watchdog’s letter said. “DMV should extract the advertising regulatory language from the rest of the draft autonomous vehicle regulations and start a formal rule-making to enact that section immediately.”

Here are examples of the promotional campaign to drill the idea into consumer consciousness that Teslas drive themselves:

• In 2014 Musk told the shareholders meeting that they would soon be able to drive “from highway on-ramp to highway exit without touching any controls.” (

• There was video of Musk’s then wife, Tallulah Riley, behind the wheel of a Tesla without her hands on the steering and waving them in the air. (

• Another video shows Musk himself in the driver’s seat of a Tesla demonstrating the vehicle with his hands off the steering wheel. (

• A Tesla promotional video set to the music “Paint It Black” that purported to show a Tesla making its way through “urban streets” autonomously when it was in fact merely crossing the Stanford University campus. Pedestrians the Tesla vehicle encountered along the way were paid actors. (

“Much of the new autonomous vehicle draft regulation pertains to future developments in the technology. For the most part, the rules would not impact any vehicle now on public highways. The regulations are complex and it makes sense to take the time necessary to get them right,” Consumer Watchdog’s letter concluded. “The situation is different with the advertising provision. The language is clear and straightforward. Car manufacturers, like Tesla, are hyping their vehicles now. People are getting killed. The DMV must move as quickly as possible to enact this life-saving provision and stop such abuses.”

View DMV’s statement about the draft autonomous vehicle regulations here:

View DMV’s new draft autonomous vehicle regulations here:


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John M. Simpson
John M. Simpson
John M. Simpson is an American consumer rights advocate and former journalist. Since 2005, he has worked for Consumer Watchdog, a nonpartisan nonprofit public interest group, as the lead researcher on Inside Google, the group's effort to educate the public about Google's dominance over the internet and the need for greater online privacy.

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