Illustration by Alex Castro / The Verge
A Tesla whistleblower has leaked 100GB of data to the German outlet Handelsblatt containing thousands of customer complaints that raise serious concerns about the safety of Tesla’s Full Self-Driving (FSD) features.
The complaints, which were reported across the US, Europe, and Asia, span from 2015 to March 2022. During this period, Handelsblatt says Tesla customers reported over 2,400 self-acceleration issues and 1,500 braking problems, including 139 reports of “unintentional emergency braking” and 383 reports of “phantom stops” from false collision warnings.
Some of the incidents mentioned by Handelsblatt include descriptions of how cars “suddenly brake or accelerate abruptly.” While some drivers safely gained control of their vehicle, Handelsblatt says others “ended up in a ditch, hit walls or crashed into oncoming vehicles.”
The documents obtained by the outlet also outline Tesla’s policies when responding to the issues customers experience and suggest that Tesla likes to keep its vehicles’ data under wraps. Here are some of the policies described by Handelsblatt (translated with Google Translate):
For each incident there are bullet points for the “technical review”. The employees who enter this review into the system regularly make it clear that the report is “for internal use only”. Each entry also contains the note in bold print that information, if at all, may only be passed on “VERBALLY to the customer”.
“Do not copy and paste the report below into an email, text message, or leave it in a voicemail to the customer,” it said. Vehicle data should also not be released without permission. If, despite the advice, “an involvement of a lawyer cannot be prevented”, this must be recorded.
According to a note from Handelsblatt editor-in-chief Sebastian Matthes, the outlet’s editorial team sent Tesla several questions about the data it received. Instead of answering them, Matthes says Tesla “demanded that the data be deleted and spoke of data theft.” We still don’t know who provided Handelsblatt with the leaked information, but Matthes notes that the outlet received it from “several informants.”
This is far from the first time concerns about Tesla’s FSD have been raised. Tesla’s FSD capability enables all the features that come with Tesla’s Autopilot and Enhanced Autopilot features, including automatic lane changes, autosteering, auto parking, and more. Despite these concerns, Tesla made its FSD beta available to everyone in November of last year.
The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration started looking into Tesla’s FSD software in January after Tesla CEO Elon Musk tweeted that the company would give users the option to turn off “steering wheel nag.” Around one month later, the agency deemed the capability a crash risk, leading Tesla to recall 362,758 cars equipped with FSD and pause FSD installations.