In Addition to Autopilot, NHTSA Now Investigating Tesla Drivers Playing Video Games

Earlier in 2021, the U.S. government began a formal investigation of Autopilot, Tesla’s advanced suite of driver-assistance features, because of a series of collisions with parked emergency vehicles. The ongoing investigation by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) includes more than 765k cars sold by Tesla since the beginning of the 2014 model year. However, now they’re also investigating video games.

Now, there’s a new potential investigation on Tesla. A journalist recently discovered that Tesla drivers could play video games and surf the internet while the car is in motion due to a new software update for its autonomous vehicle technology. The NHTSA is looking into it, and we’ve got the details.

Tesla’s technologies’ dangerous distractions

The interior of a Tesla Model 3 with its touchscreen display in use at the 2020 Brussels Expo
The interior of a Tesla Model 3 | Sjoerd van der Wal/Getty Images

The advanced infotainment system used by Tesla has always included a selection of games that the driver can play, like Sky Force and Solitaire. In order for the video games to load, the vehicle had to be parked and stationary.

However, a recent software update now allows games to be played with the vehicle in motion, according to Carscoops. It was a startling revelation. Someone out there discovered the new feature and made a YouTube video on the topic.

Playing video games inside a moving Tesla model

After seeing a video on YouTube about the ability to play video games on Tesla’s infotainment touch screen while the vehicle is in use, Tesla owner Vince Patton decided to see if there was any truth to the claim. Taking his Model 3 to an empty parking lot to try it out, Patton learned that you could indeed play video games and search the internet while the vehicle is in use.

When the driver attempts to activate a video game in select Tesla models, they’re asked if they are a passenger. They must indicate on the screen that they are. There doesn’t appear to be a way for the Tesla system to verify that, meaning the driver can lie and access the game while driving. 

Patton told Autoblog that he personally doesn’t have a problem with automaker Tesla and loves his Model 3. His concern is that some drivers will take advantage of the ability to play games while driving the vehicle and become “dangerously distracted.” Patton went on to claim that the capability of the Tesla to work this way is “absolutely insane” and expressed his fear that someone will get killed as a result. It’s not known at this time how long this new capability has been available.

Last month, Patton filed a complaint with the NHTSA. He maintains that the government road safety agency needs to ban live video and live interactive internet browsing in the front of vehicles while it’s in motion. Patton says that creating such a dangerous distraction for drivers is reckless negligence.

Investigating the safety of autonomous driving technology

Earlier this month, the NHTSA confirmed that they are examining Patton’s complaint regarding Tesla’s video games that was first reported in The New York Times. It’s the latest in a stunningly long list of complaints involving advanced auto technology that they are looking into.

In an email to Autoblog, a spokeswoman for the NHTSA confirmed that the agency is aware of the concerns and is currently discussing the feature with the automaker. She explained that the Vehicle Safety Act forbids automakers from selling vehicles that pose unreasonable safety risks. She declined to elaborate on the conversation the agency is having with Tesla. Meanwhile, Tesla didn’t respond to messages from the press on the issue, as the automaker recently disbanded its media relations department.

The NHTSA hasn’t yet opened a formal investigation on Patton’s complaint, which would involve requests for detailed information and documentation. Executive director Jason Levine of Center for Auto Safety, a nonprofit agency, said via email to Autoblog that the NHTSA has the authority to declare the vehicles with the feature defective and recall them if they find the new software update violates the Vehicle Safety Act.

UPDATED: On Dec. 24, 2021, Axios reported that Tesla has agreed to stop allowing drivers to play video games while the vehicle is in use, according to an NHTSA spokesperson.

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