Cease-and-desist: Elon Musk, Tesla slammed by federal regulator for safety claims

Elon’s Musk claims that Tesla’s Model 3 sedan is the safest vehicle in the world resulted in a cease-and-desist letter from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, according to internal documents released this week.

Continue Reading Below

The electric carmaker's signature car received a 5-star safety rating from the agency. But NHTSA took issue with Musk and Tesla’s claims that it also achieved the “lowest probability of injury of any vehicle ever tested” and other similar public statements.

TickerSecurityLastChangeChange %
TSLATESLA INC.255.58+2.08+0.82%

The agency’s guidelines “warn against comparison statements like these because such statements mislead consumers about the relative safety of different vehicle models,” Jonathan Morrison, NHTSA’s chief counsel, wrote in an Oct. 17 letter to Musk.

“To say that Tesla’s midsize sedan has a lower probability of injury than, say, a larger SUV could be interpreted as misunderstanding safety data, an intention to mislead the public, or both," he added.

In the response, Tesla’s deputy general counsel denied that the statements were misleading or untrue, given that the Model 3’s score has been unmatched by other vehicles.

“We do not see a reason to discontinue use of our safety blog or these statements as long as no other vehicle surpasses the Model 3 Long Range RWD’s Vehicle Safety Score and overall probability of injury,” wrote Al Prescott. “We had hoped the NHTSA would welcome such an achievement.”

The internal documents were released on Tuesday by PlainSite, which acquired them through Freedom of Information Act requests.


Among the other items released by the transparency website are correspondences that include subpoenas for information related to crashes involving Tesla vehicles, including the March death involving the carmaker’s self-driving technology.