NHTSA Is Not Done With Tesla Allowing Video Games in Moving Cars Yet

After “The New York Times” revealed that Tesla allowed people to play video games while its cars were moving, we thought the EV maker would revert that decision really fast. It didn’t. Tesla only took measures one day after NHTSA (National Highway Traffic Safety Administration) started a PE (Preliminary Evaluation). And things have not stopped there.
Screen of "Sky Force Reloaded" on a Tesla 7 photos
Photo: Infinite Games
The Battle of Polytopia: MoonriseScreen of "Sky Force Reloaded" on a TeslaVideo Game on a TeslaVideo Game Menu on a TeslaScreen of "Solitaire" on a TeslaVideo Game on a Tesla
Just to remind you about what happened, Tesla made an OTA (over-the-air) update in December 2020 to offer a feature called “Passenger Play.” It allowed people in the first row to play video games on the infotainment screen even while the car was moving.

While that would already be distracting in a Model S or X, it is concerning on the Model 3 or Model Y, which concentrate most car functionalities on a single center screen. All the driver had to do to have access to Passenger Play was click a button saying they were not the driver. At least three video games were available: “Solitaire,” “Sky Force Reloaded,” and “The Battle of Polytopia: Moonrise.”

Automotive News revealed that NHTSA asked Tesla on January 20 all the information it needed to verify what happened in this case. Gregory Magno, NHTSA’s chief of the Vehicle Defects Division, sent the request letter to Eddie Gates, Tesla’s director of field quality.

This information demand is a natural development of the PE. In other words, the safety agency will not give up on the evaluation even after Tesla apparently blocked “Passenger Play.”

We say “apparently” because the white hat hacker GreenTheOnly discovered a sentence in Tesla’s firmware that said: “Adjust the passenger seat controls to verify you are a passenger.” That could be a new confirmation process to access “Passenger Play.”

NHTSA wants to go really deep into what led Tesla to allow people to play video games in moving cars in the first row. For starters, it calls “Passenger Play” an alleged defect. It also asks the company's production numbers, the number of complaints about the feature, field reports, crashes, injuries, fatalities, property damages, and lawsuits related to it.

More importantly, NHTSA wants to have “a chronology of events and studies that supported Tesla’s decisions to deploy and then revoke Passenger Play capability in the subject vehicles.” Tesla will also have to present distracted driving studies to support its decision to offer the feature. Having the EV maker explain why it thought it was a good idea in the first place and why it suddenly decided it wasn't will be enlightening.

Another crucial bit of the request is for Tesla to inform NHTSA of all the times “Passenger Play” was active when the vehicles were on Drive. Whenever that applies, the safety agency wants to know in which ones the cars detected a front passenger and in which ones it didn’t. Tesla has until March 4, 2022, to answer NHTSA.
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 Download: NHTSA asking information from Tesla for the PE (preliminary evaluation) about "Passenger Play" (PDF)

About the author: Gustavo Henrique Ruffo
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Motoring writer since 1998, Gustavo wants to write relevant stories about cars and their shift to a sustainable future.
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