Tesla is desperate to get a viral video scrubbed from the internet and TV screens after an advertisement showed one of the company’s vehicles mowing over a child-sized dummy.
Elon Musk’s electric car company sent a cease-and-desist letter to the anti-Tesla advocacy group that created and posted the commercial, The Dawn Project, earlier this month. The forceful letter, first obtained by The Washington Post and also shared with Gizmodo, alleges that the footage is a defamatory misrepresentation of Tesla’s “Full Self Driving” Beta (FSD) technology, which is still in development.
“While you and The Dawn Project purport to advocate for safety, the videos portray unsafe and improper use of FSD Beta and active safety features. Your actions actually put consumers at risk,” the company’s attorneys wrote. Tesla did not respond to further request for comment.
Dawn Project’s ad shows a Tesla Model 3 colliding with a mannequin dressed in children’s clothes at 20 miles per hour. The controversial advocacy group claims the car had FSD Beta engaged at the time of the test, though reporting from Electrek indicates that may not have been the case.
The video has been fodder for the rising wave of Tesla critics, boosting interest and concern in the safety of Tesla’s Full Self Driving tech, especially amid an ongoing federal investigation into the company’s Autopilot feature.
As an attempted rebuttal to the Dawn Project video, a few Tesla fans even began posting videos of their own “tests,” some positioning real children in front of moving vehicles (which is obviously a terribly dangerous thing to do.) The issue became prevalent enough that the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration put out a statement warning people to NOT drive cars in the direction of their kids.
The recently released cease-and-desist letter could signal that a Tesla lawsuit is coming down the pipe, though the advocacy group’s frontman seems unfazed. “This letter is so pathetic in terms of whining: Mr. Free Speech Absolutist, just a crybaby hiding behind his lawyers,” Dan O’Dowd told The Washington Post.
In addition to leading Dawn Project, O’Dowd is a tech billionaire who runs Green Hills Software, a company with potential competitive interest in undermining Tesla’s current position in the car software market, though Dowd told The Post that he’s is targeting Tesla out of safety concerns.
Regardless of Dawn Project’s intent, though, it’s worth noting that other trials of the Model 3 have also demonstrated that the cars don’t always stop when obstacles are in their way, including a AAA test in which the vehicle hit a dummy cyclist. In a 10-month span, Tesla reported more driver-assisted crashes than any other automaker earlier this year, with 392 crashes that left 6 people dead.
Despite the feature’s name, Tesla doesn’t say that its Full Self Driving driver-assistance technology is intended to autonomously drive a car without human intervention. “Autopilot, Enhanced Autopilot and Full Self-Driving Capability are intended for use with a fully attentive driver, who has their hands on the wheel and is prepared to take over at any moment. While these features are designed to become more capable over time, the currently enabled features do not make the vehicle autonomous,” reads a support post on the company’s website.
And Musk has taken to Twitter to claim that Tesla’s driver assistance tech makes cars “unequivocally safer.” Yet NHTSA, at least, seems skeptical of that claim, given its multiple recalls related to the company’s FSD feature and the regulator’s ongoing probe into whether or not Autopilot should be recalled.
For now, O’Dowd is refusing to comply with Tesla’s cease-and-desist demands. Instead, he is doubling down. The software released a lengthy and vitriolic statement panning Musk. “He is obsessed with stopping me from exposing that his Full Self-Driving cars could mow down a child dressed in a safety vest in a school crosswalk,” O’Dowd wrote. “I guess because that wouldn’t be good for the brand.”