US Opens Tesla Investigation Over In-Car Computer Games

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Image credit: Tesla

US safety regulators begin probe over complaint that drivers can actually play computer games on central touchscreen when driving

Tesla is facing another investigation by US safety officials, over allegations that drivers can play computer games on the car’s central touchscreen, whilst driving.

The investigation by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) affects 580,000 Tesla Model 3, S, X, and Y vehicles sold since 2017.

Tesla’s Autopilot system is already being investigated by the NHTSA, over a number of high profile accidents with emergency service vehicles while Autopilot was being used.

Image credit: Tesla

NHTSA investigation

“The Office of Defects Investigation (ODI) is opening a Preliminary Evaluation (PE) on certain model year (MY) 2017 – 2022 Model 3, S, X, and Y vehicles based on reports that Tesla gameplay functionality, which is visible on the front center touchscreen from the driver’s seat, is enabled even when the vehicle is being driven,” said the NHTSA.

“This functionality, referred to as “Passenger Play,” may distract the driver and increase the risk of a crash,” it added.

NHTSA said it has “confirmed that this capability has been available since December 2020 in Tesla ‘Passenger Play’-equipped vehicles.”

Before then, the game feature “was enabled only when the vehicle was in Park.”

Reuters reported the NHTSA as saying that it had received a complaint in November about the game feature from a Tesla Model 3 driver in Oregon, who said: “creating a dangerous distraction for the driver is recklessly negligent.”

Tesla reported added three games – Solitaire, a jet fighter and conquest strategy scenario in an update to the central console.

The issue is that these games can be played while the car is in motion. The car does warn “playing while the car is in motion is only for passengers.”

It then asks for confirmation that the player is actually a passenger, but the driver could still play simply by pressing a button confirmation that he or she is not the driver.

Road deaths

The agency NHTSA warned earlier this month that distracted driving accounts for a significant number of road deaths in America, with 3,142 in 2019 alone, out of a total of 38,000 deaths per year on US roads.

The UK in comparison had a total of 1,752 road deaths in 2019.

Tesla has come in for a great deal of scrunity of late due to the high level of driver-assistance systems in its vehicles.

Unfortunately these systems are often abused, even though these systems are not designed to used to drive the vehicle without the driver still being in control.

Previous examples of bad drivers misusing these systems in stupid ways includes using Autopilot to take a driver home whilst they are drunk but crash into a stationary police car; using Autopilot to allegedly show off to friends but killing them instead; using Autopilot to drive on a motorway while both driver and passenger slept; and using Autopilot to allow the driver to check on his dog, but instead crash instead into a stationary police car.

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Author: Tom Jowitt
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