Tesla to halt games on infotainment screens in moving cars

December 28, 2021

Under pressure from U.S. auto safety regulators, Tesla has agreed to stop allowing drivers and passengers to play video games on center touch screens while its vehicles are moving, reports The Chicago Tribune.

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration says the company will send out a software update over the Internet to ensure that the function—called “Passenger Play”—will be locked and won’t work while vehicles are in motion.

The New York Times has reported that the Tesla service update inserts a warning reading: “Playing while the car is in motion is only for passengers,” and that a button will ask for confirmation that the player is a passenger (although a driver could play simply by pressing the button).

The move, announced on Thursday, December 23, came one day after the agency announced it would open a formal investigation into distracted driving concerns about Tesla’s video games, some of which could be played while cars are being driven. The U.S. auto safety regulator said on December 22 that it would look at 580,000 Tesla vehicles sold since 2017 that have the feature.

\Tesla’s CEO Elon Musk has been promoting in-vehicle entertainment, as he believes it will be highly desirable once vehicles become autonomous.

An NHTSA spokesperson said in a statement that the change came after regulators discussed concerns about the system with Tesla. The first update went out Wednesday as part of Tesla’s holiday software release, and the rest of the vehicles should have received it by Monday, December 27.

The agency says its investigation of Tesla’s feature will continue even with the update. It was not clear whether NHTSA would require Tesla to do a formal recall with the update. In the past the agency has asked Tesla why it should not be required to do recalls with safety-related software updates.

“The Vehicle Safety Act prohibits manufacturers from selling vehicles with defects posing unreasonable risks to safety, including technologies that distract drivers from driving safely,” NHTSA’s statement said. The agency said it assesses how manufacturers identify and guard against distraction hazards due to misuse or intended use of screens and other convenience technology.

The agency announced Wednesday that it would formally investigate Tesla’s screens after an owner from the Portland, Oregon, area filed a complaint when he discovered that a driver could play games while the cars are moving.

In documents detailing the investigation, NHTSA said “Passenger Play” has been available since December 2020. Before that, enabling gameplay was only possible when its vehicles were in park.

The NHTSA documents do not list any crashes or injuries caused by the problem.

Tesla owner Vince Patton, 59, filed the complaint last month after discovering the gaming feature could be played by drivers. Patton, who loves his car and says he has nothing against Tesla, worries that drivers will play games and become dangerously distracted. “Somebody’s going to get killed,” he said. “It’s absolutely insane.”

Research contact: @chicagotribune