The National Transportation Safety Board, the US government agency that investigates crashes, ordered the Dawn Project firm to stop using its seal after it appeared in a Super Bowl ad calling for consumers to boycott Tesla.
In a letter, the NTSB said it must immediately remove its imprint from the Dawn Project's website and YouTube page, as well as any further airings of the commercials. The NTSB said in a news release that it had not authorized the use of its seal and was not endorsing the work of the Dawn project.
“We used the NTSB's seal of approval in our second Super Bowl LVIII commercial, while also pointing out Tesla's refusal to implement the NTSB's prudent safety recommendations, recommendations with which the Dawn Project fully agrees,” an emailed statement from a Dawn Project spokesperson said. “Unlike Tesla, we have great respect for the NTSB.”
The Dawn Project, a safety advocacy group funded by tech CEO Dan O'Dowd, aired two ads during Super Bowl LVIII in Washington, DC, Dover, Delaware, Santa Barbara, California and Traverse City, Michigan — the city where the US Secretary of Transportation is located. Pete Buttigieg lives. The cost of running the ads in those markets was $552,000.
The ads criticized Tesla's full-self-driving, advanced driver assistance software, which O'Dowd accused of having critical safety flaws. FSD is not self-driving. Instead, the upgraded $12,000 system performs some automated driving duties and requires a human driver to be ready to take control at any time.
The Dawn Project has campaigned against Tesla's use of FSD for years, including airing an ad during last year's Super Bowl. This year, the group used the NTSB seal in its announcement, which caught the agency's attention. NTSB General Counsel William McMurry Jr. called the use illegal and noted that the commercial was also posted on the group's webpage and YouTube page.
The agency also has a screenshot of the ad, which is shown below.
“Given the nature of our work and the need to remain unquestionably independent of commercial interests, we seek to protect the NTSB's international reputation by preventing unapproved use of our seal,” the letter said. “Contrary to federal law, you are not authorized and not sanctioned by the NTSB to use the NTSB seal in your Super Bowl LVIII commercial or any other material. In addition, your unauthorized use of the NTSB's seal may forge an endorsement of the message by your company and/or the NTSB.