The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration has contacted Tesla to express concern about the EV maker’s software update that lets passengers play video games using the center touch screen.
In a statement provided to Reuters by email, NHTSA confirmed having contacted Tesla about this new feature that can potentially cause distracted driving.
"Distraction-affected crashes are a concern, particularly in vehicles equipped with an array of convenience technologies such as entertainment screens. We are aware of driver concerns and are discussing the feature with the manufacturer.”
The agency’s reaction comes after a December 7 report from the New York Times warned that Tesla drivers can play video games while driving. Mind you, before starting a video game, the following warning pops up on the screen: "Playing while the car is in motion is only for passengers.”
NYT reported that a button asks for confirmation that the player is a passenger, although a driver can just press the button and play. We haven't been able to verify that yet, but videos of Tesla cars running video games while moving are available on YouTube (like the one below).
Running a video game is one thing, but being able to play it while driving is completely different; still, NHTSA argues that active gameplay on a Tesla's center console is likely a significant distraction for a driver.
Tesla added the games in an over-the-air software update pushed to most of its vehicles this summer. According to the newspaper, the update added three games: solitaire, a jet fighter and conquest strategy scenario.
Now, it goes without saying that Tesla cannot possibly condone such dangerous behavior from drivers and can't be that naive to trust drivers' common sense. What NHTSA is likely after is to convince the automaker to make it impossible for a driver to play or even watch video games while driving.
In 2013, NHTSA issued guidelines encouraging automakers "to factor safety and driver distraction prevention into their designs and adoption of infotainment devices in vehicles.”
The guidelines “recommend that in-vehicle devices be designed so that they cannot be used by the driver to perform inherently distracting secondary tasks while driving.”
According to NHTSA, distracted driving accounts for a significant number of US road deaths—3,142 in 2019 alone. The numbers are likely higher as official figures are said to underestimate the problem because not all distracted drivers admit the issue after crashes.
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