Tesla Capitulates, Will Disable Video Games on Touch Screens While Car is Moving

Tesla vehicles will no longer allow video games to be played on the center touch screens after facing scrutiny from U.S. auto safety regulators. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) announced Wednesday that it had launched a formal investigation into the "Passenger Play" feature over distracted driving concerns, but said Thursday that the electric vehicle manufacturer had agreed to restrict the capability.

Tesla will issue an Internet software update that will lock the touch screen games while the car is in motion. The first update was sent Wednesday in the company's holiday software delivery, and all remaining vehicles are expected to receive the update Thursday.

Previously, when people in Tesla vehicles attempted to open one of the handful of games included in the system, players were asked to confirm that they were not driving the car, but there was nothing in place to actually stop a driver from answering falsely and playing the games, the New York Times reported.

The NHTSA plans to continue investigating the Tesla feature despite the update, according to an agency spokeswoman. About 580,000 of Tesla's electric cars and SUVs from model years 2017 through 2022 will be assessed in the "Passenger Play" probe.

Tesla to Restrict Game Feature
Under pressure from U.S. auto safety regulators, Tesla has agreed to stop allowing video games to be played on center touch screens while its vehicles are moving. Above, Vince Patton, a new Tesla owner, demonstrates on December 8, 2021, on a closed course in Portland, Oregon, how he can play video games on the vehicle's console while driving. Gillian Flaccus/AP Photo

The statement says NHTSA regularly talks about infotainment screens with all automakers. A message was left Thursday seeking comment from Tesla, which has disbanded its media relations department.

It was not clear whether NHTSA would require Tesla to do a formal recall with the update. In the past, the agency has asked Tesla why it should not be required to do recalls with safety-related software updates.

"The Vehicle Safety Act prohibits manufacturers from selling vehicles with defects posing unreasonable risks to safety, including technologies that distract drivers from driving safely," NHTSA's statement said. The agency said it assesses how manufacturers identify and guard against distraction hazards due to misuse or intended use of screens and other convenience technology.

The agency announced Wednesday that it would formally investigate Tesla's screens after an owner from the Portland, Oregon, area filed a complaint when he discovered that a driver could play games while the cars are moving.

In documents detailing the investigation, NHTSA said "Passenger Play" has been available since December 2020. Before that, enabling gameplay was only possible when its vehicles were in park.

The NHTSA documents do not list any crashes or injuries caused by the problem.

Tesla owner Vince Patton, 59, filed the complaint last month after discovering the gaming feature could be played by drivers. 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."

NHTSA already is investigating why Tesla's "Autopilot" partially automated driving system keeps crashing into stopped emergency vehicles. It's also looking into the performance of Tesla's "Full Self-Driving" software after getting a complaint that it nearly caused a crash.

Tesla says neither system can drive vehicles and that drivers must pay attention and be ready to intervene at all times.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

Tesla Investigation
Tesla vehicles will no longer allow video games to be played on the center touch screens after scrutiny from U.S. auto safety regulators. Above, a sign bearing the company logo outside a Tesla store in Cherry Creek Mall in Denver on February 9, 2019. David Zalubowski/AP Photo