Tesla fights US Senate campaign ad showing its EVs hitting child-sized mannequins

Dan O’Dowd, the California U.S. Senate candidate behind a controversial anti-Tesla ad, has pledged to continue airing the campaign despite receiving a cease-and-desist letter from the automaker.

O’Dowd’s call for a ban on Tesla’s Full Self-Driving (FSD) software comes as the automaker enlists more than 100,000 drivers to begin beta tests on public streets, while defending itself from a National Highway Traffic Safety Administration investigation into fatal crashes involving its precursor Autopilot system.

FSD, which Tesla said Tuesday will be offered as a $15,000 option, allows the car to perform certain traffic maneuvers without driver input but is not a fully self-driving system because it requires the driver to be ready to take over the vehicle at any time.

The 30-second commercial sponsored by the Dawn Project, a safety advocacy group founded by O’Dowd, shows a Tesla Model 3 striking four different child-sized mannequins while driving a test track at Willow Springs International Raceway in Rosamond, California.

“This happens over and over again,” O’Dowd, who is also the CEO of Green Hills Software, a safety software maker and potential Tesla competitor, says in a voiceover. “A hundred thousand Tesla drivers are already using Full Self-Driving on public roads.”

Tesla accused the Dawn Project of depicting the “unsafe and improper use” of its FSD software and demanded the group remove the videos. CEO Elon Musk responded to critics on Twitter with trademark truculence.

The campaign ad sparked public scrutiny, as well as criticism from Tesla’s supporters, since its debut earlier this month. Some alleged that the Model 3 shown in the video was not engaged in FSD. At least one Tesla fan conducted a comparison test, showing the car stopping to avoid hitting both a child-sized mannequin and a real child. YouTube removed the video after it was flagged as harmful content.

“The purported tests misuse and misrepresent the capabilities of Tesla’s technology, and disregard widely recognized testing performed by independent agencies as well as the experiences shared by our customers,” Tesla deputy general counsel Dinna Eskin wrote in the August 11 letter.

The Dawn Project said in a statement that the June 21 footage from Willow Springs featured a 2019 Model 3 that was engaged in Tesla’s Full Self-Driving Beta 10.12.2 version.

O’Dowd said his campaign against Tesla’s Full Self-Driving software will run “until @ElonMusk proves it won’t mow down children.”

Tesla and the Dawn Project did not immediately respond to a request for comment.