Tesla recently started allowing passengers to play a few games on its infotainment system while the car was in motion. There were many concerns about how the system could be manipulated by the driver to allow them to play while driving, or even just watch a passenger play while driving. This would make for a dangerous scenario.
After the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) opened up a formal safety investigation, the Associated Press reported that Tesla halted the access to these games on its infotainment screens while the car is in motion. The NHTSA is concerned that Tesla’s decisions to allow passengers to play games while the car is in motion could pose a safety risk. By working with the NHTSA, Tesla is reaffirming its stance on safety being the company’s number one priority.
Earl Banning, one of Tesla’s non-employee FSD Beta testers, told me earlier this month that beta testers would not be able to get away with abusing this feature since Tesla tracks their eye movements as a part of the beta testing program. If an FSD Beta tester was caught playing games while driving, they will be locked out of FSD.
The NHTSA has said that it had “confirmed that this capability has been available since December 2020 in Tesla ‘Passenger Play’-equipped vehicles.” Before then, it had only been available when the vehicle was in Park. Furthermore, the large majority of games are not available even to passengers while in Drive, just a few were awarded this capability in December 2020 — and that was not widely known at all by Tesla owners. Though, I spoke with my friend Gail Alfar who owns a Tesla Model 3 and she told me that when she and her husband were driving, she was playing the games while he drove. He told her that her playing the games was a bit of a distraction, and also, when she had the games activated, he couldn’t see the maps (although, the navigation was still talking to him).
In a statement, the NHTSA said that it was “committed to ensuring the highest safety standards on the nation’s roadways.” The reason the agency opened the investigation into Tesla was based on reports that “Tesla’s gameplay functionality is visible from the driver’s seat and can be enabled while driving the vehicle.”
Editor’s note: As a Tesla Model 3 owner, when I found out about this in recent days and mentioned it to my wife, she was shocked that the option was there, considering how distracting it could be to the driver and how hard it would be to not look at the game being played. I had the same reaction myself, but did not indicate that until getting her feedback. Given the screen’s orientation and proximity to the driver, it would just be very hard to not look at the game — even a rather boring one like Solitaire. On the one hand, it’d be nice to give the passenger something to do during monotonous travel — especially if access was given to more interesting games like Stardew Valley — but it’s just simply not logical to add that distraction. In fact, considering how risky it is, since finding out about a few games being accessible to the passenger while driving, I have wondered if they were accessible by accident. Caraoke has this sort of access — where you have to indicate you are the passenger to turn it on — and I think that’s fine, but enabling gaming is a step too far. —Zach Shahan
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