The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) has officially opened a preliminary evaluation into an estimated 580,000 Tesla vehicles over complaints that video games can be played on the front infotainment screen while the vehicle is in motion.
The investigation involves Tesla Model X, S, Y, and 3 cars equipped with a function called “Passenger Play.” The NHTSA describes the problem as Tesla allowing “gameplay to function on the front center touchscreen while the vehicle is in motion,” which may “present a distraction to the driver.”
One official complaint on NHTSA’s website from a consumer in Lake Oswego, Oregon reads as follows:
Tesla is now making interactive video games and live internet web searching possible on the main front seat display WHILE THE CAR IS DRIVING. The video games are allegedly restricted only to passengers. Web browsing is available to anyone at any time. Why is a manufacturer allowed to create an inherently distracting live video which takes over 2/3 of the screen which the driver relies on for all vehicle information? Tesla has no gauges above the steering wheel […] Creating a dangerous distraction for the driver is recklessly negligent.
The NHTSA confirms that the capability has been available since December 2020 in vehicles equipped with “Passenger Play.” Prior to this, it says, gameplay was only possible when the vehicle was in Park.
However, the function gained notoriety earlier this month, when it was revealed that the only safeguard against drivers playing games while in control of the vehicle was a prompt that asked the player to agree that only passengers should play while the car was in motion. By simply touching the screen and confirming that, though, a driver could play Solitaire while driving.
Midway through the month it was reported that NHTSA had taken an interest in the reports, and now it has opened its preliminary evaluation.
“Through this [Preliminary Evaluation], ODI will evaluate aspects of the feature, including the frequency and use scenarios of Tesla ‘Passenger Play,’” the regulator writes.
Earlier this month, the NHTSA reported that distracted driving had led to 3,142 road deaths in 2019 alone, so its findings will be interesting. It is also a reflection on the modern automotive industry that Tesla will likely be able to fix this issue (if it has to) with an over-the-air update – although the feature shouldn’t have been available in the first place.