NHTSA probing Tesla after reports that drivers can play video games in motion

The agency seeks to "evaluate the driver distraction potential" of the feature.

December 22, 2021, 10:53 AM

U.S. traffic safety regulators have launched a formal probe into certain Tesla vehicles after reports emerged that drivers can play video games on the car's touchscreen while in motion.

A spokesperson for the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration confirmed to ABC News on Wednesday that the agency has opened a preliminary evaluation into certain Tesla vehicles, including the Model 3, S, X and Y, that were produced between 2017 and 2022.

The investigation seeks to "evaluate the driver distraction potential of Tesla 'Passenger Play,'" the spokesperson told ABC News in a statement.

"NHTSA based its decision on reports that Tesla's gameplay functionality is visible from the driver's seat and can be enabled while driving the vehicle," the statement added.

The agency said it has received one owner complaint describing the gameplay functionality and has confirmed that this capability has been available since December 2020 in Tesla "Passenger Play"-equipped vehicles. Prior to this, enabling gameplay was only possible when the vehicle was in park, according to the NHTSA.

PHOTO: Vince Patton, a new Tesla owner, demonstrates on Dec. 8, 2021, on a closed course in Portland, Ore., how he can play video games on the vehicle's console while driving.
Vince Patton, a new Tesla owner, demonstrates on Dec. 8, 2021, on a closed course in Portland, Ore., how he can play video games on the vehicle's console while driving.
Gillian Flaccus/AP, FILE

The agency said it seeks to evaluate scenarios in which a driver could interact with the "Passenger Play" feature through its investigation.

Earlier this month, the New York Times published an investigation into Tesla's video game features highlighting the so-called "passenger play" option. The report stated that an update in Tesla's software package added at least three games drivers could access while the car was in drive -- and that in a warning that appears before the game starts, Tesla signals it is aware of this and that "playing while the car is in motion is only for passengers." The outlet reports a button asks if the player is a passenger, but a driver can also play by simply touching it.

Distracted driving has been blamed for the deaths of more than 3,000 people in 2019, according to separate data compiled by the NHTSA.

Tesla, which previously disbanded its media relations team, did not immediately respond to ABC News' request for comment on Wednesday.

In its statement to ABC News, the NHTSA added that it "reminds the public that no commercially available motor vehicles today can drive themselves."

"Every available vehicle requires the human driver to be in control at all times, and all State laws hold the human driver responsible for the operation of their vehicles," the agency added. "Certain advanced driving assistance features can promote safety by helping drivers avoid crashes and mitigate the severity of crashes that occur, but as with all technologies and equipment on motor vehicles, drivers must use them correctly and responsibly."

The latest investigation from regulators comes on the heels of separate, ongoing probe into Tesla's Autopilot systems that was launched by the NHTSA in August.

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