Are drivers playing video games? The US is investigating the Tesla case

DETROIT (AP), -- Vince Patton was looking at a YouTube video by a Tesla owner last August and noticed something remarkable: Tesla drivers can now play video games on their touch-screen dashboards, even while driving.

Are drivers playing video games? The US is investigating the Tesla case

DETROIT (AP), -- Vince Patton was looking at a YouTube video by a Tesla owner last August and noticed something remarkable: Tesla drivers can now play video games on their touch-screen dashboards, even while driving.

Esat Zorkun
Esat Zorkun
13 December 2021 Monday 12:41
1686 Reads
Are drivers playing video games? The US is investigating the Tesla case

Patton, curious to see the real thing, drove his 2021 Tesla Model 3 to a empty parking lot at a community college, activated "Sky Force Reloaded" using a menu, and performed a few loops.

Patton, a retired broadcast journalist aged 59 who lives in Portland, Oregon, said, "I was just dumbfounded that...yes, sure enough...this sophisticated video game came up."

He also tried Solitaire and was able activate it while driving. He discovered that he could surf the internet while driving his car.

Patton, who loves Tesla and has nothing to do with it, is concerned that Tesla drivers might play dangerous games and become distracted.

He said, "Somebody's going get killed." It's insane.

Patton filed a complaint to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (the government's road safety agency), in early December.

Patton's complaint stated that the NHTSA should prohibit live video from the driver's seat, and any live interactive web browsing while in motion. "Creating a dangerous distraction to the driver is recklessly negligent." NHTSA confirmed Wednesday that it was investigating the matter. The New York Times first reported Patton's complaint Tuesday.

A spokeswoman for NHTSA wrote via email that "We are aware driver concerns and are discussing it with the manufacturer." "The Vehicle Safety Act prohibits manufacturers selling vehicles with design defects that pose unreasonable safety risks."

The spokeswoman refused to give further details about the agency's conversations with Tesla. Although the agency has not initiated a formal investigation, it would have to request documents or other specific information. Tesla has closed its media relations division and did not respond to The Associated Press' messages.

The NHTSA's inquiry is the latest in a growing number of infractions involving advanced automobile technology. Two federal agencies are currently reviewing them as safety threats.

The government is investigating Tesla's Autopilot partially-automatic driving system as well as its "Full Self-Driving” software system. This system is currently being tested on selected roads by select owners. NHTSA is also investigating software updates over the internet that could fix safety issues and Tesla battery fires, as President Joe Biden increases scrutiny.

NHTSA stated in its statement that it continues to study distractions while driving and has issued guidelines to automakers for determining whether a task is distracting from driver attention.

"If the task doesn't meet the acceptance criteria," said the statement. "The NHTSA guidelines recommend that this task be made unaccessible to the driver while driving."

According to the agency, distracted driving was responsible for more than 3100 deaths in 2019 and 9% of all traffic fatalities in America. Safety experts claim that distracted driving accidents are not being properly counted.

It is not clear how long Tesla has allowed games while cars are moving. Patton stated that "Sky Force Reloaded" may now be available to drivers thanks to a software update he discovered over the summer. He noted that the game involves lasers and missiles that can be fired at targets.

Before the video games can activated while the car moves, drivers must answer questions about whether they are passengers. Then they click a button to confirm that they are. Patton stated that Tesla does not have a way to verify this fact.

He said that a driver could lie if he or she is alone in the car and still be able play while driving.

He said, "That's not much safety barrier."

Patton stated that even if a passenger is playing, the game can be distracting for the driver as it takes up approximately two-thirds the screen. He also said that it is harder for drivers to see windshield defroster controls and warnings.

Patton stated that games were not allowed to be played while vehicles are in park. He said that many drivers take them out while they wait for their batteries to recharge at Tesla's Supercharger stations.

He said that the car prevented him from streaming movies from Netflix and YouTube, but it was still moving.

Jason Levine, executive Director of the non-profit Center for Auto Safety, stated in an email that NHTSA is authorized to declare vehicles defective and seek a recall.

Levine stated that there is no doubt that having a large screen near the driver so the driver or a passenger can play a game while the vehicle is in motion is an unreasonable safety risk. According to Levine, "NHTSA's recent statements suggest that this feature is in violation of the law and both the spirit of the NHTSA's driver distraction guidelines."

Drivers have misused Tesla's Autopilot system in the past. They have also thwarted its system to detect hands behind the wheel. California's driver was caught riding in the back of the car as it rolled down a freeway.

The National Transportation Safety Board recommended to Tesla that a camera system be installed after investigating two fatal Autopilot crashes. In October, the agency stated that Tesla had not yet responded.

Tesla stated that Autopilot and Full Self-Driving, despite their names may not be able to drive, but are driver assistance systems. It states that drivers must pay attention to the road and be prepared to act.

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