The US National Highway Traffic and Safety Administration is investigating whether Tesla’s “Passenger Play” video game function could lead to crashes.
The feature, available on about 580,000 Tesla models built between 2017 and 2021, allows gameplay functions while the vehicle is in motion.
“The Office of Defects Investigation (ODI) is opening a preliminary evaluation … based on reports that Tesla gameplay functionality, which is visible on the front centre touchscreen from the driver’s seat, is enabled even when the vehicle is being driven,” the agency said.
“This functionality may distract the driver and increase the risk of a crash.”
Questions about the video game function follow earlier NHTSA probes of systems at Elon Musk’s electric vehicle company centred on the controversial Autopilot driver-assistance program.
NHTSA said it has confirmed that the gaming function has been available since December 2020 in many Tesla vehicles, after only being enabled in park mode on earlier models.
NHTSA undertook the probe following a customer complaint earlier this year.
“Why is a manufacturer allowed to create an inherently distracting live video which takes over two-thirds of the screen which the driver relies on for all vehicle information?,” said a complainant from Lake Oswego, Oregon.
“NHTSA needs to prohibit all live video in the front seat and all live interactive web browsing while the car is in motion. Creating a dangerous distraction for the driver is recklessly negligent.”
The agency said that in 2019, 3,142 people were killed in the US due to distracted driving, up from 2,841 people the previous year.
Tesla shares rose more than 7% on Wednesday to $1,008.87. Musk said he had almost completed his planned divestment of 10% of the company’s stock.
Musk has sold $15.4 billion worth of shares since early November when the world’s richest person polled Twitter users about the merits of offloading a tenth of his stake in the electric-car maker.
- George Russell, with Reuters and AFP