The US government says it is investigating more than half a million Tesla vehicles sold since 2017, following reports that drivers can play video games available on its main display screen while driving.
The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) says it received a complaint in August that said live games and internet web searching — which were supposedly restricted to passenger use only while the car was in motion — could be played by anyone in the vehicle at any time. Its Office of Defects and Investigations said in a report that it “confirmed that this capability has been available since December 2020 in Tesla ‘Passenger Play’-equipped vehicles.”
ODI’s preliminary evaluation will include an estimated 580,000 Tesla Model 3, Model S, and Model X vehicles sold between model years 2017 and 2022 “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. This functionality, referred to as ‘Passenger Play,’ may distract the driver and increase the risk of a crash,” according to the ODI report.
The New York Times reported earlier this month that Tesla updated the playable video games in most of its vehicles in an over-the-air software update this summer. The update allowed some of the games to be played on center touch screens while the vehicles are in motion. Prior to the update, the Tesla Arcade games could only be played while a vehicle was parked. The Verge confirmed that a notification pops up when the games launch, and a user has to tap an “I am a passenger” confirmation button before playing. There’s little to prevent a driver from tapping the button and playing the games, however.
“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?” the complainant asked.
The Verge reached out to Tesla for comment on the investigation, but after dissolving its press office in 2020, the company rarely replies to media inquiries.