Update (December 24): Tesla will issue a software update that will prevent games from being played on the infotainment display. The carmaker moved quickly to issue a software update that will roll out to the affected vehicles by Christmas.
“Following the opening of a preliminary evaluation of Tesla’s ‘Passenger Play,’ Tesla informed the agency that it is changing the functionality of this feature,” the safety agency said in a statement. “In a new software update, ‘Passenger Play’ will now be locked and unusable when the vehicle is in motion.”
Original story (December 22):
Earlier this month, we covered a software update issued by Tesla that allowed games to be played on the infotainment display while the car was in motion. We pointed out at the time that this new capability would likely draw the attention of state and federal regulators. To no one’s surprise, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration on Wednesday announced a formal safety investigation over the update.
According to the NHTSA, the feature has been around since December 2020 for Teslas equipped with “Passenger Play.” Prior to that, games could only be played on the center screen when the vehicle was in park.
The NHTSA’s investigation covers approximately 580,000 Tesla Model S, 3, X, and Y vehicles spanning model years 2017 through 2021. The agency said it will be evaluating “aspects of the feature, including the frequency and use scenarios of Tesla ‘Passenger Play.'”
Tesla does warn against gaming while driving. When Passenger Play is activated, a warning pops up on the screen: “Use of Touch Arcade while the vehicle is in motion is only for passengers. Please check local laws prior to playing.” With at least 34 states having “video screen restriction” laws as of 2014, gaming via Passenger Play would appear to be broadly illegal. In addition, the NHTSA issued guidelines for front-row displays back in 2013, saying that “displaying images or video not related to driving… will inherently interfere with a driver’s ability to safely operate the vehicle.”
Tesla is also under investigation by the NHTSA over 12 instances where vehicles using Tesla’s Autopilot driver assistance system crashed into emergency vehicles pulled over to the side of the road. Those crashes have led to at least 17 injuries and at least one death. That investigation covers 765,000 Teslas built between 2014 and 2021.