Enrichment Arts & Culture

Tesla under investigation for allowing drivers to play video games while cars are moving

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

Story at a glance

  • The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) on Tuesday opened a formal investigation into a report that Tesla vehicles allow video games to be played even while the car is in drive. The investigation covers an estimated 580,000 vehicles.
  • The NHTSA said it had confirmed that the function has been available in certain Tesla models since December 2020. Up until then, gameplay could only be activated when the vehicle was parked.
  • Distracted driving is responsible for thousands of deaths in the U.S. each year. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, about eight people per day are killed in crashes that involve a distracted driver.

The U.S. on Tuesday launched an official investigation into a report that Tesla vehicles allow video games to be played on the vehicle’s center screen while the car is in motion.

The investigation, opened by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), will cover an estimated 580,000 Tesla vehicles from model years 2017 through 2022, according to the agency.

The NHTSA earlier this month said it was looking into the Tesla gameplay functionality, called “Passenger Play,” which reportedly allows the driver or front-seat passenger to play games on the vehicles’ large touchscreen, located on the dashboard between the two front seats, even while the vehicles are moving.

The NHTSA confirmed Tuesday that Passenger Play has been available in certain Tesla vehicles since December 2020. Up until then, gameplay was enabled only when the vehicle was in park, the agency said.


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The investigation will evaluate the “driver distraction potential” of Passenger Play while the vehicle is in motion, the NHTSA said, warning that the feature may “increase the risk of a crash” if the driver’s attention is shifted from the road.

The agency added that the evaluation will include aspects including “frequency and use scenarios” of Passenger Play.

The New York Times earlier this month published an investigation into Tesla’s gameplay functionality, stating an over-the-air software update added at least three games that could be accessed while the car was in motion. According to the report, a warning appears on the screen before the game starts stating that “playing while the car is in motion is only for passengers.”

Distracted driving is responsible for thousands of deaths in the U.S. each year. An NHTSA analysis found distracted driving was linked to more than 3,000 deaths in 2019 alone. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, roughly eight people per day in the U.S. are killed in crashes reported to involve a distracted driver.

Traffic safety advocates say official figures underestimate the number of deaths tied to distracted driving because the driver does not always admit they were distracted at the time of the crash.

Guidelines released by the NHTSA in 2013 say automakers should “factor safety and driver distraction-prevention into their designs and adoption of infotainment devices in vehicles, Reuters reported.

The guidelines recommend that “in-vehicle devices be designed so that they cannot be used by the driver to perform inherently distracting secondary tasks while driving.”

Tesla did not immediately respond to requests for comment.


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