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The NHTSA has been investigating 956 crashes and 29 deaths linked to Tesla vehicles in “Autopilot” or “Full Self Driving” mode. It concluded that 14 of these deaths resulted from the Tesla striking a vehicle or object, often when the obstacle was visible for 10 seconds or longer–long enough for a human driver to avoid it. It concluded that Tesla’s driver assistance software did not do enough to keep driver’s engaged.

For years now, Tesla has been rolling out–and then rolling back–various levels of driver assistance software. When multiple Tesla vehicles struck and killed first responders who were parked by the side of the highway, the NHTSA opened its investigation.

After it emerged that the FSD system was blind to emergency lights and flairs, Tesla specified that despite “Full Self Driving” branding, its driver assistance software wasn’t “self driving.” Therefore, the crashes weren’t the automaker’s fault. It even argued that the name wasn’t confusing at all.

The NHTSA argued that human drivers could have prevented many of these deaths, but obviously the vehicle could not. Therefore, Tesla “did not adequately ensure that drivers maintained their attention on the driving task.” It called out misleading branding, such as “Autopilot.” And it also dug into the systems Tesla and its competitors use to make sure drivers stay focused. This comparison made it clear Tesla fell short.

“A comparison of Tesla’s design choices to those of L2 (level 2 self driving) peers identified Tesla as an industry outlier in its approach to L2 technology by mismatching a weak driver engagement system with Autopilot’s permissive operating capabilities.”  


Tesla officially admitted that its cars were unsafe, issued a recall, and wrote a software update. The new software was stricter about drivers keeping their hands on the wheel and eyes on the road. But after multiple experts agreed the latest software is still unsafe, the NHTSA announced in April 2024 that it is reopening the investigation.

The front dash view and steering wheel of a white Tesla Model X
Tesla interior | Olesia Kononenko via iStock

Here’s where things get interesting. Tesla’s stock prices have been tumbling. In a call with investors, CEO Elon Musk insisted on calling the cars “self driving.” He added that the automaker is about to release a “fully autonomous vehicle” for consumers, as well as a “robotaxi.” Despite the NHTSA demonstrating that humans could have avoided crashes in which Teslas killed people, Musk insisted Tesla cars are already safer than human drivers.

So does Tesla’s one hand not know what the other is doing? Some industry experts believe the truth is much more insidious. Truly self driving cars represent a huge economic opportunity. A self driving personal car could revolutionize how we work, how far we commute, and where we live. Robotaxis unlock a massive industry. Musk continues to insist that he is not running a “car company” but instead it’s a “robotics company.” But to do so, he must also insist his cars are robots. Every time Elon Musk claims that his cars are “nearly” self driving, Tesla’s stock value skyrockets. But do people die based on this lie?

Many Tesla investors are also Tesla vehicle owners. When Musk insists on an investor call that his cars are “self driving,” a sizable portion of his audience are also Tesla drivers eager to drink the proverbial cool-aid. Sometimes with as deadly a result.

Tesla's CEO, Elon Musk, wears a suit during a press conference.
Elon Musk, Tesla CEO | Joel Saget/AFP via Getty Images

Duskin Moskovitz is the co-founder of Facebook and Asana. After Elon Musk published a graph supposedly celebrating 1 billion miles of fully autonomous driving, Moskovitz took to social media to accuse Tesla of “massive fraud.” He began by calling the graph, “humorously ambiguous,” with its dates and numbers. He continued by listing other instances when Tesla was vague or untruthful about data that benefited its stock prices. Finally, he likened Tesla’s current management to the Enron accounting scandal that blew up in 2001.

“I know I sound crazy to most people who don’t follow $TSLA closely but at this point it really needs to be said. This is Enron now, folks…It may keep going, but people are going to jail at the end. The data is presented in fraudulent ways, and it doesn’t say what they claim it says even when they make it up…Tesla has committed consumer fraud on a massive scale, from lying about FSD, ranges, and (recently, unconfirmed!) even inflating odometers.” 

Duskin Moskovitz, Threads

Elon Musk retweeted a screenshot of Moskovitz’s article with the caption. “What a r—–.” Later, he responded to someone else’s repost with, “yeah, Dustin is the one who should go to jail for impersonating a smart person.”

Next, read about the DOJ subpoena into Tesla, or see the WSJ’s dive into Tesla autopilot crashes in the video below: