The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) announced on the 22nd of December that it had opened an official investigation into Tesla concerning the security of its front touchscreen that allows users to play games with video even when their vehicle is moving.
A U.S. auto safety regulator has said it is investigating 580,000 Tesla vehicles sold in 2017 and have the safety feature.
Tesla CEO Elon Musk has been promoting in-car entertainment, believing it will be highly desired once autonomous vehicles are developed.
The touchscreen feature, “Passenger Play,” may cause drivers distraction and increase the chance of crashes, per the agency.
The New York Times reported earlier that the Tesla service update added warnings that read: “Playing while the car is in motion is only for passengers,” and that a button would request confirmation that the player is a passenger; however, a driver could still play without hitting the button.
“To today, the agency has received a single complaint from a customer about the game’s capabilities and confirmed that this feature has been available since December 2020 in Tesla “Passenger Play”-equipped automobiles,” an NHTSA spokesman told reporters in an email The Associated Press and Reuters.
“Before this time, enabling gameplay was only possible when the vehicle was in park.”
The NHTSA announced that its preliminary review will cover a range of vehicles from 2017 to 2022 Tesla Model 3, S, Z, and Y models and would “evaluate the various aspects of the feature such as the frequency and usage scenarios associated with Tesla “Passenger Play’.”
The agency stated in its annual report that it is unaware of accidents or injuries related to the program.
A representative from Tesla could not be reached for a response.
According to the NHTSA, distracted driving is a significant cause of death annually in the United States. They say that official statistics tend to understate the extent of the problem because most drivers involved in accidents later claim not to have been distracted.
Since 2013, the agency has issued guidelines for touchscreens and infotainment systems on all vehicles.
Tesla owner Vince Patton, who lives close to Portland, Oregon, filed his first complaint with NHTSA in August after he realized that the touchscreen could play video games on his smartphone while the car was moving.
He also urged the Auto regulator to ban live video and interactive internet browsing from the centrally located front-facing touchscreen when the vehicle is in motion.
“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 when he filed his grievance.
“Creating a dangerous distraction for the driver is recklessly negligent.”
The investigation conducted by the NHTSA is an initial step before deciding whether to upgrade the inquiry to an engineering study is required before the agency can request a recall.
Following a previous NHTSA investigation, Tesla recalled more than 135,000 vehicles earlier in the year because of touchscreen issues.
The agency is currently investigating the safety of 765,000 Tesla vehicles through Tesla’s Autopilot system, following an array of accidents involving Tesla’s cars and one or more emergency vehicles.
Tesla did not submit recall paperwork to the regulator, even though it had an online update to try and fix the safety issues.
NHTSA is also looking into the operation of Tesla’s “Full Self-Driving” software after receiving complaints that it almost caused the crash.
Tesla replied that neither system could autonomously control vehicles and that drivers should be prepared to respond anytime.
In the last month, Mercedes-Benz recalled hundreds of the 2021 models, including the S580 and 2022 models of EQS450, S500, and EQS580. S500 following November. 29 report revealed an identical touchscreen issue affecting information systems for their vehicles.
The automaker said it would turn off the entertainment function when vehicles move; a server upgrade changed that.
Bryan S. Jung is an original resident of New York City with expertise in politics and the legal field. He received his law degree at Binghamton University.