Class Claims Tesla Autopilot Drives Like a Drunk

SAN JOSE (CN) — A federal class action from car owners in three states on Wednesday claims that Tesla electric cars with autopilot software “behave as if a drunk driver is at the wheel.”

Dean Sheikh et al. claim that the “enhanced autopilot” feature on which they spent extra money is “essentially unusable and demonstrably dangerous.”

The feature, which costs $5,000, uses sonar sensors to match the vehicle’s speed to traffic conditions, change lanes and freeways, and self-park, according to Tesla’s promotional materials.

On its website, Tesla touts the autopilot function of its Model S sedan as “designed to make your highway driving not only safer, but stress free.”

The three plaintiffs, from Colorado, Florida, and New Jersey, beg to differ. “Tesla had to know how deeply flawed, raw, and untested the software was and remains,” they say in the 44-page complaint.

“In fact, new vehicles equipped with Tesla’s newest software still do not have some of the basic safety features that are standard features of cars equipped with the older software — and that are supposed to be standard features of Tesla’s newest vehicles, too. Yet Tesla promised imminent safety-enhanced and auto-driving nirvana.”

The complaint cites an article about a Tesla owner using his Model S with the autopilot software as “behaving as if a drunk driver is behind the wheel.”

“At times, the car veers towards curbs and merges across the double yellow line,” according to the article from the website Jalopnik, describing a video from the Model S owner.

The plaintiffs also say Tesla missed deadlines to roll out the features and deceived owners about their availability.

Tesla has acknowledged the software needs more testing, but did not include that information on its website or in promotional materials, according to the complaint.

In an emailed statement, a Tesla spokesperson called the lawsuit “a disingenuous attempt to secure attorney’s fees posing as a legitimate legal action,” and called the plaintiffs’ view of the technology “inaccurate and sensationalistic.”

“We have always been transparent about the fact that Enhanced Autopilot software is a product that would roll out incrementally over time, and that features would continue to be introduced as validation is completed, subject to regulatory approval,” the spokesperson wrote.

“Furthermore, we have never claimed our vehicles already have functional ‘full self-driving capability,’ as our website has stated in plain English for all potential customers that ‘it is not possible to know exactly when each element of the functionality described above will be available, as this is highly dependent on local regulatory approval.’”

The plaintiffs seek class certification and damages for consumer fraud, fraud by concealment and unjust enrichment.

They are represented by Shana Scarlett with Hagens Berman Sobol Shapiro in Berkeley.