As a safety precaution, Tesla has halted gaming on infotainment screens in moving electric vehicles. NHTSA personnel had expressed concern about the possibility that drivers will be distracted by games on their center touchscreens.
Tesla refers to the gaming feature as “Passenger Play.” A software update released over the holidays will lock the feature while the vehicle is in motion.
The NHTSA communicated its concerns with Tesla and is continuing an investigation into possible safety issues involving entertainment on the central touchscreens. It has pressured Tesla to do a recall to update the software for improved safety.
“The Vehicle Safety Act prohibits manufacturers from selling vehicles with defects posing unreasonable risks to safety, including technologies that distract drivers from driving safely,” the NHTSA said in a statement.
The NHTSA’s investigation involves about 580,000 vehicles from the model years 2017 through 2022. It does not have any records of wrecks in which drivers playing games on their touchscreens may have been a variable.
A Tesla vehicle owner in Portland, Oregon, apparently filed a safety complaint after discovering that drivers could play games while driving. He says he doesn’t mean it as a mark against Tesla, but “somebody’s going to get killed.”
Drivers have praised Autopilot’s ability to handle crash avoidance, including braking to avoid rear-ending somebody who brake checked them. A Tesla vehicle in Norway also demonstrated Autopilot’s ability to pull over to the side of the road if drivers aren’t keeping their hands on the wheel and may be incapacitated.
Data sent back to Tesla’s servers by Autopilot and Full Self-Driving can help provide a clearer picture of what happened when one of its vehicles is involved in a crash. The server logs indicated that Autopilot was not active in a fatal crash in Texas in which Autopilot was initially suspected, for instance.
Despite the good safety marks that Autopilot gets from users, Tesla’s own internal engineers admitted that Autopilot and FSD are not quite ready to handle all possible variables on the road in communications with California’s DMV, however.
Experts estimate that the driver assist programs are about Level 2 on the Society of Automotive Engineers’ (SAE) five-level scale of a vehicle’s autonomy. At this level, driver assist programs can handle some basic tasks like lane-keeping and cruise control. At Level 5, a self-driving program would be able to handle most situations without input from a human driver.
Tesla has frequently issued warnings about distracted driving while using the Autopilot or Full Self-Driving (FSD) software. It recently launched an insurance program in Texas with dynamic insurance rates based on driving data sent back to its servers by its vehicles’ onboard computers. Some Tesla owners have already praised the insurance program for saving them money on their car insurance.
It has also added a required driving safety test before Tesla owners can use the Full Self-Driving software. Tesla CEO Elon Musk says engineers are constantly improving the software and the company “hustled” to develop the first publicly available version of Autopilot after a fatal wreck in which the driver fell asleep at the wheel.
Tesla characteristically did not respond to requests for comment. It currently does not have a media relations department.