Tesla to stop gaming on infotainment screens in moving cars

DETROIT (AP) – Under pressure from U.S. auto safety regulators, Tesla has agreed to stop allowing video games on central touch screens while its vehicles are on the move.

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration has said the company will send a software update over the Internet so that the feature called “Passenger Play” will be locked out and will not work when vehicles are in motion.

The move comes a day after the agency said it would open a formal investigation into distracted driving issues regarding Tesla’s video games, some of which could be played while driving cars.

A spokeswoman for the agency said in a statement Thursday that the change came after regulators discussed concerns about the system with Tesla. The first update was released on Wednesday as part of Tesla’s vacation software release, and the rest of the vehicles are expected to receive it on Thursday.

The statement says NHTSA regularly talks about infotainment screens with all automakers. A message was left Thursday soliciting comment from Tesla, which has disbanded its media relations department.

The agency says its investigation into Tesla’s functionality will continue even with the update. It was not clear whether NHTSA would require Tesla to make a formal recall with the update. In the past, the agency has asked Tesla why it shouldn’t be forced to perform recalls with security-related software updates.

“The Vehicle Safety Act prohibits manufacturers from selling vehicles with defects that pose unreasonable safety risks, including technologies that prevent drivers from driving safely,” the NHTSA statement read. The agency said it is evaluating how manufacturers identify and protect against the risk of distraction due to misuse or intended use of screens and other convenience technologies.

The agency said on Wednesday it would formally investigate Tesla’s displays after an owner in the Portland, Oregon area filed a complaint when he discovered a driver could play games while the cars rolled.

The agency said the “Passenger Play” feature could distract the driver and increase the risk of an accident.

The probe covers approximately 580,000 Tesla Models S, X, Y and 3 from model years 2017 to 2022.

In documents detailing the investigation, NHTSA said “Passenger Play” had been available since December 2020. Prior to that, activating the game was only possible when its vehicles were parked.

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

Tesla owner Vince Patton, 59, filed the lawsuit last month after discovering that the gaming feature could be played by drivers. Patton, who loves his car and says he has nothing against Tesla, fears drivers will play games and become dangerously distracted.

“Someone is going to be killed,” he said. “This is completely crazy.”

NHTSA is already investigating why Tesla’s partially automated “Autopilot” driving system continues to crash into stopped emergency vehicles. It is also examining the performance of Tesla’s “Full Self-Driving” software after receiving a complaint that it nearly caused a crash.

Tesla says neither of the two systems can drive vehicles, and drivers should be careful and be ready to intervene at all times.

Copyright 2021 Associated Press. All rights reserved.

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