US launches probe into 580,000 Tesla vehicles over gambling feature

By David Shepardson

WASHINGTON – U.S. auto safety regulators said Wednesday they have opened a formal safety investigation into 580,000 Tesla vehicles sold since 2017 following the automaker’s decision to allow games to be played on the front center touchscreen.

The National Road Safety Administration (NHTSA) said its preliminary assessment covers various 2017-2022 Tesla Model 3, S, X and Y vehicles. This feature, called “Passenger Play,” “can distract the driver and increase the risk of a crash,” the agency said.

NHTSA said it has “confirmed that this capability is available as of December 2020 in vehicles equipped with Tesla ‘Passenger Play’.” Previously, the game functionality “was only activated when the vehicle was parked”.

NHTSA said in a statement Wednesday that it was “committed to ensuring the highest standards of safety on the nation’s roads.”

The agency said the decision to open the investigation was based on reports “Tesla’s gameplay functionality is visible from the driver’s seat and can be activated while driving the vehicle.”

The Governors Highway Safety Association said Wednesday it was pleased with NHTSATesla’s safety investigation “and would like to remind all drivers to be alert and focused on the road while driving.”

Tesla did not immediately comment.

NHTSA said it would “evaluate aspects of functionality, including Tesla ‘Passenger Play’ frequency and usage scenarios.”

Earlier this month, The New York Times highlighted the gaming feature, prompting NHTSA say he was in discussions with Tesla about his concerns.

The agency noted earlier in December that distracted driving was responsible for a significant number of road deaths in the United States – 3,142 in 2019 alone. Safety advocates said official figures underestimate the problem because not all drivers involved in crashes later admit they were distracted.

The Times said Tesla’s update added three games – Solitaire, a jet fighter and conquest strategy scenario – and said vehicles had warnings that read: “Playing while the car is in motion is reserved for passengers.

The log says the play functionality asks for confirmation that the player is a passenger, though a driver can still play just by pressing a button.

In 2013, NHTSA released guidelines to encourage automakers “to consider safety and the prevention of driver distraction in their designs and adoption of infotainment devices in vehicles.”

The guidelines “recommend that in-vehicle devices be designed in such a way that they cannot be used by the driver to perform inherently distracting secondary tasks while driving,” the agency said.

The agency opened a safety investigation into 765,000 Tesla vehicles on its Autopilot driver assistance system in August after a series of crashes involving the system and parked emergency vehicles.

A preliminary assessment is a first step before NHTSA decides to upgrade a probe to technical analysis, which must occur before the agency can demand a recall.

NHTSA said it received a complaint in November about gaming functionality from a Tesla Model 3 driver in Oregon, who said, “Creating a dangerous distraction for the driver is reckless negligence.”

On November 29, Daimler’s Mercedes-Benz recalled 227 US vehicles – 2021 model year S5802022 EQS450, EQS580and S500 – because the vehicle’s infotainment systems “could allow television and internet display to be activated while driving, causing driver distraction”.

About Mohammed B. Hale

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