Tesla stops games on infotainment screens in moving cars

DETROIT (AP) – In response to pressure from U.S. auto safety officials, Tesla has agreed to stop playing video games on center touchscreens while driving.

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration says the company will post a software update over the Internet to disable the Passenger Play feature and prevent it from working while vehicles are in motion.

The move comes a day after the agency announced it would open a formal investigation into distracted driving concerns related to Tesla’s video games, some of which could be played while driving.

An agency spokeswoman 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 Christmas software release, and the rest of the vehicles should get it today.

The statement says that NHTSA speaks regularly with all automakers through infotainment screens. A message was left on Thursday by Tesla, which has disbanded its media division.

The agency says its investigation into Tesla functionality will continue with the update as well. It wasn’t clear whether the NHTSA would require Tesla to issue a formal recall with the update. In the past, the authority asked Tesla why no product recalls should be required for security-relevant software updates.

“The Vehicle Safety Act prohibits manufacturers from selling vehicles with defects that pose an unreasonable safety risk, including technology that distracts drivers from safe driving,” the NHTSA said. The agency said it was evaluating how manufacturers identify and protect against distraction hazards from misuse or intentional use of screens and other convenience technology.

The agency announced on Wednesday that it would officially examine Tesla’s screens after an owner from the Portland, Oregon area filed a complaint upon discovering a driver could play games while the cars were moving.

The “Passenger Play” function could distract the driver and increase the risk of accidents, said the authority.

The probe covers approximately 580,000 Tesla models S, X, Y and 3 of the model years 2017 to 2022.

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

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

Tesla owner Vince Patton, 59, filed the complaint 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 the drivers are playing games and being dangerously distracted. “Someone is getting killed,” he said. “It’s absolutely insane.”

The NHTSA is already investigating why Tesla’s partially automated driving system “Autopilot” repeatedly collides with stopped emergency vehicles. It also investigates the performance of Tesla’s “full self-driving” software after receiving a complaint that it nearly caused a crash.

Tesla says that none of the systems can drive vehicles and that drivers must be careful and be ready to intervene at all times.

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