Story at a glance
- Tesla implemented a software update in most of its cars that allows drivers and front-seat passengers to play games, even while a car is in motion.
- Many Tesla drivers pointed out that the new feature could turn into a dangerous distraction.
- According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, eight Americans die everyday from distracted driving crashes.
Tesla implemented a software update that allows drivers to play video games on the vehicle’s main touchscreen console, and it’s now prompted federal officials to investigate potential safety risks.
Vince Patton, a new Tesla owner, demonstrates on Wednesday, Dec. 8, 2021, on a closed course in Portland, Ore., how he can play video games on the vehicle’s console while driving. Patton, of Portland, Ore., filed a complaint with federal regulators after discovering the feature in his new car. Gillian Flaccus/ AP
According to an analysis by The New York Times, Tesla added the gaming capability in an over-the-air software update to most of its cars over the summer. It allows a driver or front-seat passenger to play games even while the car is in motion.
Multiple Tesla drivers uploaded videos to YouTube demonstrating how the games can be accessed and played, with one user noting in August that the new software update allowed drivers to play games even while the car was in motion.
That finally sparked serious concerns, with the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) confirming on Wednesday that it would be looking into the car’s video game feature and that it was discussing the matter with Tesla, according to Bloomberg.
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“Distraction-affected crashes are a concern, particularly in vehicles equipped with an array of convenience technologies such as entertainment screens. The Vehicle Safety Act prohibits manufacturers from selling vehicles with design defects posing unreasonable risks to safety,” said NHTSA.
Distracted driving is a serious problem, with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) saying about eight people in the US are killed in crashes that involve a distracted driver everyday.
Anything that involves averting a driver’s attention away from the road is considered to be a distraction, including sending a text message, taking a phone call, using a navigation system or eating or drinking. The CDC describes reading a text message while driving equivalent to driving the length of a football field with your eyes closed.
Many states have attempted to address the problem of distracted driving, with 24 states passing laws that ban the use of handheld cell phones while driving. Automakers have also tried to intervene, creating software that automatically disables certain features while a car is in drive, like access navigation or music controls.
However, The Times pointed out that Tesla’s software did alert drivers that when a car is in motion, games are only for passengers. Despite that, a driver could technically by-pass the prompt and continue playing.
One Tesla driver pointed out this capability in another YouTube video, saying, “This is pretty dangerous. I’m sure somebody’s going to use Autopilot and then play solitaire while they’re on Autopilot. Take note of that, Tesla.”
It’s not the first time Tesla has run into safety issues with federal authorities. The NHTSA identified 11 Tesla car crashes in which each Tesla involved was using the vehicle’s autopilot or cruise control features, which it is now also investigating.
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