Tech entrepreneur Dan O’Dowd, a fierce critic of Tesla, is not putting on the brakes in his campaign against the automaker’s self-driving software.
O’Dowd’s “The Dawn Project,” which says it wants to make software systems safer for humanity, will air two ads during the Super Bowl calling on consumers to boycott the electric car maker’s products and stock after they were exposed during last year’s Super Bowl had a similar campaign. .
“Buying either will put money in Tesla founder Elon Musk’s pocket and fund his dangerous self-driving experiments,” a spokesperson for the Dawn Project told CNN on Sunday.
“Tesla has consistently failed to address the flaws in its flawed self-driving software,” O’Dowd said in a statement on Sunday. “When you buy a new Tesla, you are financing and enabling Elon Musk to put a dangerous, unfinished product on our public roads… We have tried to pressure Tesla and Elon Musk to do the right thing and remove their defective software from our to get roads. However, it seems like the only thing that will put pressure on Tesla and Elon Musk to do the right thing is to deny them your money.”
Tesa did not respond to CNN’s request for comment.
Last year, the group produced one ad that showed Tesla vehicles using the Full Self-Driving feature. In a series of video tests from The Dawn Project, the cars run over a child’s doll in a school crosswalk and over a fake baby in a stroller.
“Two months after our ad aired, a child was hit while getting off a school bus,” O’Dowd told CNN in a telephone interview. “It’s completely unbearable. Why wouldn’t Tesla disable its self-driving features on roads it knows are not safe? This one thing will save lives and cost Tesla absolutely nothing.”
O’Dowd is the president and CEO of Santa Barbara, California-based software company Green Hills Software. In 2022, he launched an unsuccessful bid for the U.S. Senate focused solely on the issue of Tesla’s automated driving software.
Tesla’s driver assistance features such as Autopilot, Enhanced Autopilot and Full Self-Driving are “designed to further reduce driver workload and make common operations such as changing lanes or parking easier,” according to Tesla owner’s manuals. But O’Dowd said The Dawn Project has “hundreds of hours of video” showing the features not working properly in different road conditions.
There is an entire section of the Tesla owner’s manual that lists the limitations and warnings surrounding these programs. For example, it is “extremely unlikely that the Autosteer function will work as intended” when driving on hills, on roads with sharp bends, in direct sunlight or when shadows obscure lane markings.
The company’s Full Self-Driving system is officially still in a development beta program. No Tesla vehicle on the market can drive itself, and the company is warning drivers that none of its self-driving programs make their cars fully autonomous.
The Full Self-Driving feature likely won’t work well in cases that require multiple lanes, on windy roads, roadworks, and in “interactions with pedestrians, cyclists, and other road users,” the owner’s manual warns. “Always be prepared to take immediate action. Failure to follow these instructions could result in damage, serious injury or death.”
This year’s The Dawn Project ads feature “real crash footage of victims of Tesla’s self-driving software,” the group said in the press release. According to The Dawn Project, the clips reportedly show two separate incidents involving Tesla cars with Autopilot features activated. In the first case, a vehicle collides with a semi-trailer truck at an intersection. In the second flight, a vehicle flies past a stop sign and collides with a parked car.
“Tesla dances away from liability in Autopilot crashes by pointing to a note deep in the owner’s manual that says Autopilot is only safe on highways,” the ad said.
The second ad refers to an incident where “a self-driving Tesla blew past a stationary school bus,” injuring a child. “Yet Tesla does nothing,” the ad continues.
O’Dowd told CNN that The Dawn’s Project’s Super Bowl ad last year heightened the conversation around Tesla’s self-driving capabilities. The goal this year is to increase consumer awareness to the point where they trade with their wallets, he said.
“The standard is now worried and nervous,” O’Dowd said. “Unlike two years ago, the response was: ‘This is the best new technology!’ But we are not yet at the point where people are saying this product should not be on the market. We need to make sure people understand that they are buying a product that doesn’t work.”
This year’s campaign cost $552,000, a spokesperson for The Dawn Project told CNN, slightly less than the group’s $598,000 ad buy during the last Super Bowl. The commercials will also play in fewer and smaller media markets. Last year, The Dawn Project aired its ads in Washington, DC, and the capitals of populous states: Atlanta; Austin, TX; Tallahassee, FL; Albany, New York; and Sacramento, California. This year, the ads will again run in Washington, DC, along with Dover, Delaware; Cross City, Michigan; and Santa Barbara, California.
According to O’Dowd, The Dawn Project has set aside a larger budget this year, expecting to purchase advertising space in Sacramento. However, CBS Sacramento declined to air their ads, saying that “ads for social causes/issues are not allowed,” according to The Dawn Project spokesperson.
CBS Sacramento did not respond to CNN’s request for comment.
“We are running it in fewer territories but have doubled the airtime this year with two commercials instead of one,” a spokesperson for the Dawn Project said, noting that Washington is “the biggest focus as it is home to the politicians and federal regulators.”
O’Dowd said the Traverse City ad buy was chosen because Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg lives in the area, and that Delaware was chosen because it is President Joe Biden’s home state. Biden owns a private home in Wilmington, Delaware.
Tesla and Musk have long been the subject of federal investigations into the automaker’s Autopilot features. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration and the National Transportation Safety Board have investigated crashes involving Tesla vehicles using its various driver assistance features, including a series of collisions with emergency vehicles at the scene of other crashes.
In December, Tesla recalled nearly all of its 2 million cars after a two-year investigation by the NHTSA into about 1,000 crashes involving the Autopilot feature. The agency said the Autopilot system can give drivers a false sense of security and can easily be abused in certain dangerous situations where Tesla’s technology may not be able to safely navigate the road. Tesla has released an over-the-air software update to limit use of Autopilot’s Autosteer feature if a driver repeatedly fails to demonstrate readiness to resume control of the car while the feature is enabled.
CNN’s Ramishah Maruf and Chris Isidore contributed to this report.