The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Tesla halts use of video games in moving cars amid safety probe

The move comes after the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration opened a probe into the ‘Passenger Play’ feature this week.

Vince Patton demonstrates how he can play video games on a Tesla car's center console while driving, on a closed course in Portland, Ore., on Dec. 8. (Gillian Flaccus/AP)
Placeholder while article actions load

SAN FRANCISCO — Tesla will no longer allow drivers and front-seat passengers to play video games while its cars are in motion, the company told federal regulators after a probe was opened this week.

“Tesla informed the agency that it is changing the functionality of this feature,” Lucia Sanchez, a spokeswoman for the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, said. “In a new software update, ‘Passenger Play’ will now be locked and unusable when the vehicle is in motion.”

Federal regulators probing Tesla over drivers’ ability to play video games in moving cars

Sanchez said Tesla’s move followed the opening of a preliminary evaluation into the feature on Tuesday, which allowed drivers and passengers to play solitaire and more advanced games while the car was moving by simply agreeing to a prompt that the software was for passenger use.

“The Vehicle Safety Act prohibits manufacturers from selling vehicles with defects posing unreasonable risks to safety, including technologies that distract drivers from driving safely,” Sanchez said.

She said the evaluation continues while federal regulators gather additional information from Tesla.

Tesla did not immediately respond to a request for comment from The Washington Post. The company in the past has touted potential safety benefits of its advanced driver-assistance system, Autopilot, comparing its performance to driving overall.

Tesla test drivers believe they’re on a mission to make driving safer for everyone. Skeptics say they’re a safety hazard.

But federal regulators worry that in-car distractions paired with systems that introduce automation will encourage drivers to take their eyes off the road. And Autopilot’s performance is not directly comparable to regular driving because the system consists of primarily highway-only features.

A second system, called Full Self-Driving, is a software beta available to limited group of thousands of testers — and is intended to be used on city and residential streets.

NHTSA opened a probe this summer into Autopilot over crashes involving a dozen parked emergency vehicles while the system was activated. The agency also asked Tesla and other carmakers, along with manufacturers of self-driving vehicles, to report on any crashes involving autonomous and advanced-driver assistance systems within a day of learning of the incidents.

Sanchez said this week that NHTSA had opened its 580,000-vehicle probe into in-car gaming because of concerns about driver distraction.

“NHTSA based its decision on reports that Tesla’s gameplay functionality is visible from the driver’s seat and can be enabled while driving the vehicle,” she said, noting that “no commercially available motor vehicles today can drive themselves.”