The U.S. has opened a formal investigation into a report that Tesla vehicles allow people to play video games on a center touch screen while they are driving.
The probe by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration covers about 580,000 electric cars and SUVs from model years 2017 through 2022.
The action follows a complaint to the agency that Teslas equipped with “gameplay functionality” allow games to be played by the driver while the vehicles are moving.
In a document posted Wednesday on its website, the agency says the feature, called “Passenger Play,” may distract the driver and increase the risk of a crash.
The agency's Office of Defects Investigation said in the document that the game capability has been available since December of 2020. Before that date, the games could only be played while the Teslas were in park.
The probe, which covers all four Tesla models, the S, X, Y and 3, was opened “to evaluate the driver distraction potential of Tesla ‘Passenger Play’ while the vehicle is being driven.” Investigators "will evaluate aspects of the feature, including the frequency and use scenarios of Tesla “Passenger Play.”'
An investigation can lead to a recall. A message was left early Wednesday seeking comment from Tesla, which has disbanded its media relations department.
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Tesla owner Vince Patton, who lives near Portland, Oregon, filed the complaintwith the agency last month. In August, he was watching a YouTube video of a Tesla owner who discovered that he could now play a video game on his touch-screen while the vehicle is moving.
Curious to see for himself, Patton drove his own 2021 Tesla Model 3 to an empty community college parking lot, activated a game called “Sky Force Reloaded” from a menu and did a few loops.
“I was just dumbfounded that, yes, sure enough, this sophisticated video game came up,” said Patton, a 59-year-old retired broadcast journalist who lives near Portland, Oregon.
He tried Solitaire, too, and was able to activate that game while driving. Later, he found he could browse the internet while his car was moving.
Patton, who loves his car and says he has nothing against Tesla, worries that drivers will play games and become dangerously distracted.
“Somebody’s going to get killed,” he said. “It’s absolutely insane.”
So he filed the complaint early last month.
“NHTSA needs to prohibit all live video in the front seat and all live interactive web browsing while the car is in motion,” Patton wrote in his complaint. “Creating a dangerous distraction for the driver is recklessly negligent.”