NHTSA Questions Tesla’s In-Car Video Games

Chris Teague | Dec 09, 2021

Another day, another controversial Tesla story. Today, it’s news that the automaker’s move to install video games for use on its cars’ large infotainment screens may be open to players while the vehicle is in motion. Reporting from the New York Times and Bloomberg shows that Tesla may not be doing all that it can to prevent distracted driving.

Tesla Video Games While Driving

Photo: Will Matsuda via New York Times

Tesla’s giant infotainment screen makes the perfect interface for video gaming, and a wireless controller allows anyone to control the action from any seat in the car. At the time, no one questioned whether occupants could play them while the vehicle was in motion, but a report from earlier this week proved everyone wrong. The New York Times reported that Tesla allows some games to operate while the car is in motion, including Sky Force Reloaded, Solitaire, etc. The games were released in a software update in late 2020, so the discovery took almost a year to go public.

Unsurprisingly, regulators aren’t particularly excited about the revelation. In a statement to Bloomberg, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) said that its “guidelines specify a test method to evaluate whether a task interferes with driver attention, rendering it unsuitable for a driver to perform while driving. If a task does not meet the acceptance criteria, the NHTSA Guidelines recommend that the task be made inaccessible for performance by the driver while driving.”

The New York Times notes that built-in games were previously only available while the car was in Park, so the fact that they are playable now could be a mistake. That said, Solitaire’s opening screen warns players that passengers only play the game while the car is in motion. The game requires an acknowledgment from the player before moving past the launch warning.

The ability to play a game while waiting on the car to charge is a significant benefit for Tesla owners, but leaving games unlocked while the vehicle is in motion is downright dangerous. The NHTSA notes that distracted driving killed 3,142 people in 2019, so giving people another way to take their eyes off the road is far from the right direction for an automaker to take. It’s also worth noting that the NHTSA’s questions on mobile video games come right in the middle of other probes into Tesla’s responsibility for its owners’ misuse of semi-automated driving features.

Bloomberg and New York Times are the sources of information for this article. It was accurate on December 9, 2021, but it may have changed since that date.

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