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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 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.