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NHTSA Opens Probe After Tesla Allows Gaming While Driving

Tesla Model 3 Gaming While Driving
(Image credit: Tom's Hardware)

As our vehicles become increasingly complex with 12-plus-inch infotainment screens and semi-autonomous driving modes, there has also been a resultant increase in distracted driving. Distracted driving is a safety issue on the nation's roads, which is why the National Highway Transportation Safety Administration (NHTSA) is investigating claims that Tesla allows video games to be played on the massive center display of its vehicle while driving, according to the New York Times.

When it comes to multimedia playback on Tesla vehicles, it’s typically restricted to use only when the vehicle is in park. For example, you can’t load up YouTube, Netflix, or Hulu to play movies from the Tesla Theater on the central screen while driving. If you are stopped and the vehicle is still in drive, it still won’t allow videos to play.

So, it would be reasonable to assume that the same would hold true for video games, which require more interaction from the person at the controls. However, with an over-the-air (OTA) update pushed out to Tesla vehicles over the summer, playing select preinstalled games while driving is now possible. We should mention that Tesla displays a warning that states, “Use of Tesla Arcade while the vehicle in motion is only for passengers. Please check local laws prior to playing,” but nothing stops the driver from pressing the button to continue playing.

(Image credit: Tom's Hardware)

While we’d hope that Tesla drivers aren’t foolish enough to attempt playing games like Solitaire and Sky Force Reloaded while driving, the NHTSA isn’t taking any chances when it comes to on-road safety. “Distraction-affected crashes are a concern, particularly in vehicles equipped with an array of convenience technologies such as entertainment screens,” said the NHTSA in a statement to Reuters. “We are aware of driver concerns and are discussing the feature with the manufacturer.”

We can confirm that it is possible to bypass the Tesla prompt as the driver can play Sky Force Reloaded without issue (Tesla Model 3, software version 2021.36.8) with the vehicle in Drive. I performed the test from the safety of my driveway at no more than 2 miles per hour for safety’s sake. However, that won’t stop fearless people with something to prove from performing such actions on city streets or highways, which is why the NHTSA is on the case.

It’s likely that given the attention that this “feature” is currently receiving, Tesla will push out another OTA update that disables gaming while the vehicle is in motion. Since this gaming lockout was already present before the summer software update, it would be trivial for Tesla to backtrack.

Tesla recently made headlines after Chinese-made Model Y crossovers received a massive hardware upgrade from Intel Atom to AMD Ryzen SoCs. Subsequent benchmarks showed that the performance difference between the two chips is significant in UI navigation and multimedia performance.

Brandon Hill

Brandon Hill is a senior editor at Tom's Hardware. He has written about PC and Mac tech since the late 1990s with bylines at AnandTech, DailyTech, and Hot Hardware. When he is not consuming copious amounts of tech news, he can be found enjoying the NC mountains or the beach with his wife and two sons.

  • helper800
    This seems silly to me. If you are going to, as a driver, choose to avoid all safety concerns and do this anyways, the ability to do so is the least of that persons issues. In my opinion, this should be fine to allow for its intended purpose. If some idiot decides to play games while they are in, for all intents and purposes, a driverless vehicle, they will pay the consequences. In the future (probably within 50 years) when the majority of cars are driverless and traffic effectively no longer exists, in place of a windshield there will be a 65 inch OLED type screen everyone will be playing games on...
    Reply
  • InvalidError
    IMO, integrating distractions into the car's management systems shouldn't be allowed until fully autonomous self-driving is achieved and driver distraction is no longer materially relevant.

    I'm not a fan of modern cars where a bunch of functions that used to have dedicated knobs and buttons are now integrated into an all-in-one touch screen and hidden 2-4 levels deep into the UI, feels massively more distracting than reaching for a dedicated physical control. There is also the issue of losing the touch-screen means losing most non-critical functions and also some quite important ones like climate control and defrost.
    Reply
  • helper800
    InvalidError said:
    IMO, integrating distractions into the car's management systems shouldn't be allowed until fully autonomous self-driving is achieved and driver distraction is no longer materially relevant.

    I'm not a fan of modern cars where a bunch of functions that used to have dedicated knobs and buttons are now integrated into an all-in-one touch screen and hidden 2-4 levels deep into the UI, feels massively more distracting than reaching for a dedicated physical control. There is also the issue of losing the touch-screen means losing most non-critical functions and also some quite important ones like climate control and defrost.
    A completely reasonable assessment. We only differ in that I believe that the tesla vehicles that have the driving assist feature are effectively, except by law only, autonomous driving vehicles. The main problem is that not everyone is going to have this feature for many decades to come, and until then they have to be manually correctable because other drivers on the road are not perfect. Not to say that teslas are perfect either, as it is an emergent technology, however, they are certainly better at driving than people are.
    Reply
  • USAFRet
    InvalidError said:
    I'm not a fan of modern cars where a bunch of functions that used to have dedicated knobs and buttons are now integrated into an all-in-one touch screen and hidden 2-4 levels deep into the UI, feels massively more distracting than reaching for a dedicated physical control. There is also the issue of losing the touch-screen means losing most non-critical functions and also some quite important ones like climate control and defrost.
    Had this conversation with a young dude in our office.

    "Oh, the touch screen is NO problem, blah blah."

    'oh really? Sit in your truck, with your eyes closed. Now change the radio station.'

    "But that's irrelevant...you don't drive with your eyes closed!"

    'Dude...the 'eyes closed' thing is just to simulate you having to LOOK at the screen to perform basic functions. Things I can trivially do in any of my vehicles.'
    Reply
  • drivinfast247
    USAFRet said:
    Had this conversation with a young dude in our office.

    "Oh, the touch screen is NO problem, blah blah."

    'oh really? Sit in your truck, with your eyes closed. Now change the radio station.'

    "But that's irrelevant...you don't drive with your eyes closed!"

    'Dude...the 'eyes closed' thing is just to simulate you having to LOOK at the screen to perform basic functions. Things I can trivially do in any of my vehicles.'
    Almost, if not all vehicles sold in the last 15 years have steering wheel mounted radio controls.

    I will not argue the fact that there are a lot of distractions in modern vehicles, though.
    Reply
  • InvalidError
    helper800 said:
    Not to say that teslas are perfect either, as it is an emergent technology, however, they are certainly better at driving than people are.
    Watch some videos of people testing Tesla's self-driving even after the "plowing into parked emergency vehicles" patch. It often has to be stopped from plowing into closed lanes and streets, has to be rescued while making turns when the lane markers are faded out or obstructed by road curvature because it cannot figure out where the lanes are, has to be given a push because it hesitates to go forward for no apparent reason, brakes for no apparent reason, etc. Tesla's self-driving is likely 10 years away from having all of the major quirks worked out of it.

    Tesla's self-driving may be able to do some things well most of the time but it also has a long track record of failing at basic stuff for inexplicable reasons. Just because Tesla's self-driving hasn't failed you yet doesn't make the fact that it has failed other people multiple times.

    drivinfast247 said:
    Almost, if not all vehicles sold in the last 15 years have steering wheel mounted radio controls.
    Maybe on the fancier models with cruise control and other extras that already require a bunch of extra stuff to get routed through the clockspring assembly. Even then, steering wheel radio controls only give you access to the most basic stuff like volume and prev/next. Anything beyond that will likely have you reaching for the touch-screen instead of spamming the mode button 20 times to reach whatever input or setting you are after.
    Reply
  • Eximo
    The great shift will happen when insurance companies make having a self driving car cheaper than a manual car. Of course there is also the future of true ride sharing. On demand transportation becomes cheap enough, people might not even own cars in non-rural settings.

    My car has several navigable menus accessible from the steering wheel. Radio function is decent, lets you run through the presets and do volume. Can't say I am a fan of the touchscreen, but my car is old enough to still have a lot of physical dials and buttons. One of the reasons I like electric versions of standard cars, they come with normal things.
    Reply