Tesla halts use of video games in moving cars amid safety probe
SAN FRANCISCO - Tesla will no longer allow drivers and front-seat passengers to play video games while its cars are in motion, the company told federal regulators after a probe was opened this week.
"Tesla informed the agency that it is changing the functionality of this feature," NHTSA spokeswoman Lucia Sanchez said. "In a new software update, "Passenger Play" will now be locked and unusable when the vehicle is in motion."
Sanchez said Tesla's move followed the Dec. 21 opening of a preliminary evaluation into the feature, which allowed drivers and passengers to play solitaire and more advanced games while the car was moving - after agreeing the software was for passenger use.
"The Vehicle Safety Act prohibits manufacturers from selling vehicles with defects posing unreasonable risks to safety, including technologies that distract drivers from driving safely," Sanchez said.
She said the evaluation continues while federal regulators gather additional information from Tesla.
Tesla did not immediately respond to a request for comment. The company in the past has touted potential safety benefits of its advanced driver-assistance system, Autopilot, comparing its performance to driving overall.
But federal regulators worry that in-car distractions paired with systems that introduce automation will encourage drivers to take their eyes off the road. And Autopilot's performance is not directly comparable to regular driving because the system consists of primarily highway-only features.
A second system, called Full Self-Driving, is a software beta available to a more limited group of thousands of testers - and is intended to be used on city and residential streets.
NHTSA opened a probe this summer into Autopilot over crashes involving a dozen parked emergency vehicles while the system was activated. The agency also asked Tesla and other car-makers, along with manufacturers of self-driving vehicles, to report on many crashes involving autonomous and advanced-driver assistance systems within a day of learning of the incidents.
Sanchez said this week that NHTSA had opened its 580,000-vehicle probe into in-car gaming because of concerns about driver distraction.
"NHTSA based its decision on reports that Tesla's gameplay functionality is visible from the driver's seat and can be enabled while driving the vehicle," she said, noting that "no commercially available motor vehicles today can drive themselves."