WASHINGTON — The chairman of the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) said concerns raised by lawmakers about Tesla Inc.’s driver assistance system, known as Autopilot, are “on our radar.”
Under the agency’s policy, FTC Chairman Lina Khan, speaking in an interview on Tuesday, would not confirm or deny an investigation.
“It’s absolutely true that, you know, this is an issue that many members of Congress have focused on and written to us about, so it’s definitely something on our radar,” Khan said.
Tesla, which dissolved its press office, did not respond to a request for comment.
In August, Senators Ed Markey and Richard Blumenthal urged the FTC to investigate Tesla, saying the automaker was misleading consumers and endangering the public by marketing its driving automation systems as fully self-driving.
An FTC investigation could potentially lead to a lawsuit seeking to force the company to change the way it describes Autopilot’s capabilities. That could damage Tesla’s reputation.
The August letter came shortly after the National Highway Transportation Safety Administration (NHTSA) opened an investigation into Tesla’s Autopilot and crashes involving parked emergency vehicles.
Since 2016, the NHTSA has conducted special investigations into 35 accidents involving Tesla vehicles suspected of using advanced driver assistance systems such as Autopilot. To date, 14 deaths have been reported in those incidents, including three who died in a crash in California last month.
Tesla says Autopilot helps drivers by allowing vehicles to steer, accelerate and brake automatically, but the features “require active driver supervision and don’t make the vehicle autonomous.”
In a 2018 letter, NHTSA said Tesla had made “misleading statements” about the Tesla Model 3’s five-star safety rating and associated data. The agency referred the matter to the FTC to investigate whether Tesla’s claims constituted “unfair or deceptive acts or practices.”
Two U.S. consumer advocacy groups in 2018 urged the FTC to investigate Tesla’s Autopilot naming. The FTC previously declined to comment on the NHTSA’s referral and has not taken any public action against it.
(Reporting by Diane Bartz and David Shepardson; editing by Cynthia Osterman)