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Tesla’s in-dash video games get the attention of US safety inspectors

Passenger Play is under review

98th European Motor Show Photo: Sjoerd van der Wal/Getty Images
Nicole Carpenter is a senior reporter specializing in investigative features about labor issues in the game industry, as well as the business and culture of games.

The United States’ Department of Transportation’s (DOT) National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) has opened an investigation into Tesla’s video game functionality. Specifically, the government is looking into the Passenger Play feature, which allows video games to be played while a car is in use.

A New York Times report in December said Tesla issued an update earlier this month that allows users to play video games when a car is moving. Tesla Arcade has been playable via the car’s touchscreen since 2019, but previously only worked when the car is parked. The Tesla Arcade has all sorts of games — like classic arcade games and Cuphead — with others continually added; the original Sonic the Hedgehog came to the platform earlier in December. According to The Verge, a notification appears onscreen when games launch, asking the user to confirm they’re the passenger before playing.

“There’s little to prevent a driver from tapping the button and playing the games, however,” The Verge said.

The NHTSA estimates that 580,000 cars — the 2017 to 2022 Models 3, S, X, Y — are covered as part of the investigation.

It comes after a user issued a complaint to the government regulator. No crashes or injuries have been reported. “Why is a manufacturer allowed to create an inherently distracting live video which takes over 23 of the screen which the driver relies on for all vehicle information?,” the user asked in the complaint. “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.”

Tesla is also under investigation from the NHTSA over its Autopilot feature.

Tesla has not responded to Polygon’s request for comment. (The company “dissolved” its media department in 2020.)

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