The gaming functionality of Tesla Cars is under investigation by the US auto safety authorities

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U.S. auto safety regulators announced on Wednesday that they had opened a formal safety investigation into 580,000 Tesla vehicles sold since 2017 because the automaker decided to allow games on the front center touchscreen.

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) announced that its preliminary assessment covers various 2017-2022 Tesla Model 3, S, X, and Y models. This feature, known as “passenger play,” “can distract the driver and increase the risk of accidents,” the agency said.

The NHTSA said it has “confirmed this feature has been available in Tesla vehicles with” Passenger Play “as of December 2020”. Previously, the game function was “only activated when the vehicle was in the park”.

The NHTSA said in a statement on Wednesday that it was “obliged to maintain the highest safety standards on the country’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 Governors Highway Safety Association said Wednesday it was satisfied with the NHTSA’s Tesla safety investigation “and wants to remind all drivers to be vigilant and focused on the road when they are behind the wheel”.

Tesla didn’t comment immediately.

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

Earlier this month, the New York Times highlighted the gaming feature and prompted the NHTSA to say it is discussing its concerns with Tesla.

The agency found in early December that distracted driving is responsible for a significant number of road deaths in the U.S. – 3,142 in 2019 alone. Safety advocates have said official figures underestimate the problem because not all drivers involved in accidents later admit they were distracted.

The Times said the Tesla update added three games – Solitaire, a Jet Fighter, and a Conquest Strategy scenario – and said vehicles were warnings that read “Play while the car is moving, passengers only”.

The newspaper said the game feature is asking for confirmation that the player is a passenger, even though a driver could still play by simply pressing a button.

In 2013, the NHTSA issued guidelines to encourage automakers to “incorporate safety and driver distraction prevention into their designs and the introduction 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 side tasks while driving,” the agency said.

The agency launched a safety investigation into 765,000 Tesla vehicles via its Autopilot driver assistance system in August after a series of accidents involving the system and parked ambulances.

A preliminary assessment is a first step before the NHTSA decides whether to convert a probe to technical analysis, which must be done before the agency can request a recall.

The NHTSA said it received a gaming complaint in November from a Tesla Model 3 driver in Oregon who said, “Creating a dangerous distraction for the driver is recklessly negligent.”

On November 29, Daimler’s Mercedes-Benz recalled 227 US vehicles – model year 2021 S580, 2022 EQS450, EQS580 and S500 – because the vehicle infotainment systems “could enable the television and the Internet display to be activated while driving, what could distract the driver ”. . “

© Thomson Reuters 2021

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