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NHTSA opens formal probe on 580k Teslas over in-car gaming features

Tesla infotainment unit displaying Tesla Arcade. (Credit: Tesla)

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHSTA) stated on Wednesday that it had opened a formal investigation on 580,000 Teslas that were sold since 2017 over the vehicles’ ability to run games on their infotainment system. As per the NHTSA, preliminary investigations indicate that the evaluation would cover Model S, 3, X, and Y that were produced from 2017 to 2022. 

While Tesla Arcade itself is not under investigation, the NHTSA’s recently announced probe specifically deals with a function called “Passenger Play.” Passenger Play allows individuals in the passenger seat to access games even while the vehicle is in motion. The agency noted that it has confirmed that Passenger Play has been available since December 2020. Prior to this date, Tesla Arcade’s titles were only accessible when the vehicle was in Park. 

Tesla has not issued a comment about the NHTSA’s new investigation. The agency, however, highlighted that it will “evaluate aspects of the feature, including the frequency and use scenarios of Tesla Passenger Play.”

It should be noted that Tesla does display a visible warning when a passenger accesses games while the vehicle is in motion. The warning specifically states that “playing while the car is in motion is only for passengers.” A button must then be pressed that confirms that the player is not the driver. That being said, critics of the feature have argued that these warnings could easily be ignored by the driver since they could just press the confirmation button themselves. 

In-car games are not unique for Tesla. While conducting a demonstration for its Level 3 DrivePilot system earlier this year, Mercedes-Benz showcased some games that a driver could access while the vehicle is operating. These include titles such as Tetris. Other automakers are likely to roll out similar features over the following years as well, particularly as autonomous driving systems become more mainstream. 

Back in 2013, the NHTSA issued guidelines designed to encourage carmakers to “factor safety and driver distraction prevention into their designs and adoption of infotainment devices in vehicles.” The guidelines further recommended that “in-vehicle devices be designed so that they cannot be used by the driver to perform inherently distracting secondary tasks while driving.” Tesla Arcade’s initial iteration, which allowed access to games only when the vehicle is parked, seems to meet these requirements very well. 

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NHTSA opens formal probe on 580k Teslas over in-car gaming features
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