A US tech CEO’s long-running campaign against Tesla’s Autopilot has continued at this year’s Super Bowl, with two ads criticising the semi-autonomous technology aired during the NFL game.

    Last year technology entrepreneur Dan O’Dowd’s The Dawn Project broadcast one ad during the Super Bowl – the most-watched TV event in the US annually – which alleged Autopilot puts lives at risk, claiming its name leads Tesla drivers to believe their cars can drive themselves.

    Autopilot comprises what is more commonly known as adaptive cruise control, lane centring and – in newer models – driver monitoring, though many believe its name suggests to owners that their Tesla vehicles can drive themselves.

    It’s not as capable as Tesla’s Full Self-Driving system, which adds automated lane changes, automatic parking, summoning, navigation and traffic sign recognition.

    During today’s Super Bowl LVIII, The Dawn Project broadcast two new ads, claiming Tesla hasn’t addressed fundamental errors with both systems, as well as hiding disclaimers about how the technology should be used deep in its owner’s manuals.

    Mr O’Dowd has called on the public to boycott Tesla, drawing on data which points to at least 33 deaths and more than 1000 crashes caused by the technology. 

    “He [Tesla CEO Elon Musk] sells defective self-driving software by telling consumers it is many times safer than a human driver, when in fact it drives like a drunk teenager,” he said.

    “He refuses to disable Autopilot on roads where he knows it isn’t safe. Watch the Autopilot crashes below.

    “Anyone who buys a Tesla from Elon Musk is an enabler for his reckless behaviour, including his self-driving experiments that have resulted in over 1,000 crashes and at least 33 tragic deaths.”

    According to CNN Business, The Dawn Project spent US$552,000 (A$846,000) on this year’s Super Bowl ad campaign, which was only broadcast in select markets – significantly less than the circa-US$7 million (A$10.74m) it costs to air a 30-second ad nationally.

    Tesla has long been a target of Mr O’Dowd, who in 2022 ran for the US Senate based on his anti-Tesla campaign. He was unsuccessful.

    In December 2023, Tesla rolled out an over-the-air update to more than two million vehicles in the US, allowing its Autopilot system to be more vigilant if drivers were misusing the feature.

    Despite Mr O’Dowd’s belief that Tesla’s vehicles and not the drivers are responsible for crashes, two court cases in California within the past year have proven otherwise.

    Last year, Tesla was cleared of any responsibility for the fatal crash which killed Micah Lee, whose Model 3 allegedly departed a highway at 104km/h while Autopilot was active, crashing and bursting into flames.

    The family of Justine Hsu also attempted to sue the electric vehicle (EV) giant for her Model S swerving into a kerb with Autopilot active, but the case was dismissed.

    Jordan Mulach

    Born and raised in Canberra, Jordan has worked as a full-time automotive journalist since 2021, being one of the most-published automotive news writers in Australia before joining CarExpert in 2024.

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