There’s been a lot of excitement about “self-driving” cars in recent years. Tesla, with its Autopilot system, is most closely associated with autonomous vehicles.
However, safety experts warn that the technology is far from perfect. As one official with Consumer Reports put it, “Anyone who uses Autopilot on the road without someone in the driver seat is putting themselves and others in imminent danger.”
Two Santa Barbara brothers claim that they were repeatedly told something very different by Tesla employees when they bought a Model S car valued at $120,000 in 2016. They’re suing the company for violation of the Consumer Legal Remedies Act, false adverting and fraud. Although the car maker has tried to get the suit dismissed, this month a judge ruled that the case can proceed.
Plaintiffs say they were assured they could “drive” without touching controls
The brothers, who own a wealth management firm, say they told Tesla sales associates that they wanted to be able to work while riding in their car. According to the suit, “not only did the salespersons not discourage that intention, but they also confirmed and encouraged plaintiffs’ expectations that the vehicle would be suitable for that purpose, sharing stories of driving 55 miles without having to touch any controls more than once or twice.” The suit notes that Tesla’s chief executive officer (CEO) Elon Musk himself was regularly claiming that his employees were commuting long distances while barely touching the steering wheel.
The brothers say that there was no car they wanted to buy available to test drive, so they were unable to verify for themselves that the claims being made were accurate. They allege that when they got the car and realized it was not autonomous, they were assured by Tesla employees that software updates to the Autopilot system would eventually allow the car to drive itself.
Teslas still aren’t completely autonomous
That never happened. Even Tesla’s latest models are rated just 2 out of 5 on the standards of automation scale by SAE International. and that the case may eventually be heard by a jury if it is not settled out of court first.
It remains to be seen whether Tesla and the plaintiffs will reach an out-of-court settlement or if the case will proceed to trial. Either way, this latest ruling is at least a small victory for truth in advertising around cars.