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Tuesday, January 25, 2022

Tesla won’t let you play video games in moving cars anymore

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Tesla is the biggest electric vehicle maker on Earth, but the company sometimes can’t get out of its own way. This week, the US Department of Transportation (DOT) opened an investigation into Tesla’s “Passenger Play” feature. In recent years, Tesla has been installing video games in its cars that can be played on the touch screen. Most games are only accessible when the car is parked. But this summer, Tesla rolled out a software update that made some games playable while the car is moving. Following the announcement of the investigation, Tesla removed this controversial feature.

Tesla’s Passenger Play feature could be dangerous

The New York Times reports that Tesla made three games playable on Passenger Play. The games were solitaire, Sky Force Reloaded, and The Battle of Polytopia: Moonrise. Before opening, the games showed a warning message asking players to confirm that they were a passenger. The only problem? There was nothing stopping the driver from tapping through the warning and playing the game.

Here’s what the US Department of Transportation said in its report about the Tesla feature:

The Office of Defects Investigation (ODI) is opening a Preliminary Evaluation (PE) on certain model year (MY) 2017 – 2022 Model 3, S, X, and Y vehicles based on reports that Tesla gameplay functionality, which is visible on the front center touchscreen from the driver’s seat, is enabled even when the vehicle is being driven. This functionality, referred to as “Passenger Play,” may distract the driver and increase the risk of a crash.

Distracted driving has been a concern for years, exacerbated by the rise of smartphones. Whether or not they choose to do so, giving drivers the ability to play video games on a car’s primary screen while the car is in motion is clearly a really bad idea. Furthermore, Tesla desperately wants to convince us all that Autopilot is safe. Tesla also wants drivers to pay attention after engaging Autopilot. Focusing on the road is difficult while playing a turn-based strategy game.

Tesla’s response

The Department of Transportation’s National Highway Traffic Safety Administration opened a formal investigation into Tesla’s Passenger Play feature on December 21st. Rather than fight the agency, the carmaker almost immediately agreed to remove the feature from its cars. 

“Following the opening of a preliminary evaluation of Tesla’s ‘Passenger Play,’ Tesla informed the agency that it is changing the functionality of this feature,” said the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) in a statement Thursday. “In a new software update, ‘Passenger Play’ will now be locked and unusable when the vehicle is in motion.”

Tesla owners will still be able to play games on Tesla Arcade, but they’ll have to park first. This is just one of several investigations and controversies that Tesla has found itself in the middle of in recent years. Tesla’s Autopilot and Full Self-Driving functionality have been under scrutiny ever since they were announced. The last thing that Tesla needs is another confusing feature to explain.

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