Final August, Vince Patton was watching a YouTube video of a Tesla proprietor who had made a startling statement: Tesla drivers may now play a online game on their automotive’s touch-screen dashboard — whereas the car is transferring.
Curious to see for himself, Patton drove his personal 2021 Tesla Mannequin 3 to an empty neighborhood school car parking zone, activated a sport known as “Sky Power Reloaded” from a menu and did a number of loops.
“I used to be simply dumbfounded that, sure, positive sufficient, this refined online game got here up,” mentioned Patton, a 59-year-old retired broadcast journalist who lives close to Portland, Oregon.
He tried Solitaire, too, and was in a position to activate that sport whereas driving. Later, he discovered he may browse the web whereas his automotive was transferring.
Patton, who loves his automotive and says he has nothing in opposition to Tesla, worries that drivers will play video games and turn into dangerously distracted.
“Someone’s going to get killed,” he mentioned. “It is completely insane.”
Which is why early final month, Patton determined to file a grievance with the Nationwide Freeway Visitors Security Administration, the federal government’s highway security company.
“NHTSA wants to ban all dwell video within the entrance seat and all dwell interactive internet looking whereas the automotive is in movement,” Patton wrote in his grievance. “Making a harmful distraction for the motive force is recklessly negligent.”
On Wednesday, NHTSA confirmed that it is wanting into the matter. Information of Patton’s grievance was first reported Tuesday by The New York Instances.
“We’re conscious of driver considerations and are discussing the characteristic with the producer,” a NHTSA spokeswoman wrote in an e mail. “The Automobile Security Act prohibits producers from promoting autos with design defects posing unreasonable dangers to security.”
The spokeswoman declined to supply additional particulars of its conversations with Tesla. The company has not opened a proper investigation, which might contain requests for paperwork and different detailed data. Tesla, which has disbanded its media relations division, didn’t reply to messages from The Related Press.
NHTSA’s inquiry marks the most recent in a rising listing of potential infractions involving superior auto know-how which are being reviewed by two federal companies as potential security dangers.
The federal government is wanting into Tesla’s Autopilot partially automated driving system, in addition to its “Full Self-Driving” software program system, which is being examined by chosen house owners on public roads. As well as, because it will increase scrutiny beneath President Joe Biden, NHTSA is investigating over-the-internet software program updates which are meant to repair security issues and Tesla battery fires.
In its assertion, NHTSA mentioned that it continues to analysis driving distractions and that it is issued voluntary pointers for automakers to find out whether or not a selected job interferes with driver consideration.
“If a job doesn’t meet the acceptance standards,” the assertion mentioned, “the NHTSA pointers advocate that the duty be made inaccessible for efficiency by the motive force whereas driving.”
The company famous that crashes involving distracted drivers killed greater than 3,100 folks in 2019, representing about 9 % of all US visitors deaths. However security specialists contend that distracted driving crashes are undercounted.
It is unclear how lengthy Tesla has allowed video games to be performed whereas autos are transferring. However Patton mentioned a software program replace that he seen over the summer time could have begun to permit “Sky Power Reloaded” for use by drivers. The sport, he famous, includes missiles and lasers that may be fired at objects.
Earlier than the video video games might be activated whereas the automotive is transferring, drivers are requested whether or not they’re passengers and should click on a button saying they’re. However Patton mentioned there seems to be no method for Tesla to substantiate that truth.
“For those who’re alone within the automotive,” he mentioned, a driver may lie and nonetheless be capable of play whereas driving.
“That is not a lot of a security barrier,” he mentioned.
Even when solely a passenger is taking part in the sport, Patton mentioned, it might nonetheless be distracting to the motive force as a result of the sport takes up about two-thirds of the contact display screen. This additionally makes it tougher for the motive force to see warnings and controls for windshield defrosters, he mentioned.
Beforehand, Patton mentioned, video games may very well be performed solely whereas the autos had been in park. Many drivers use them whereas ready for batteries to be recharged at Tesla’s Supercharger stations, he mentioned.
The automotive, nevertheless, prevented him from watching films on Netflix and YouTube whereas it was transferring, he mentioned.
Jason Levine, govt director of the nonprofit Middle for Auto Security, mentioned in an e mail that NHTSA has the authority to declare the autos faulty and to hunt a recall.
“There’s little query that having a big display screen subsequent to the motive force on which the motive force, or a passenger, can play a online game whereas the car is transferring is an unreasonable threat to security,” Levine wrote. “NHTSA’s latest statements would recommend this characteristic has been in violation of each the spirit and letter of NHTSA’s driver distraction pointers and the regulation.”
Tesla’s Autopilot system has been misused by drivers up to now, who’ve thwarted its system for detecting fingers on the wheel. In a single case, a driver in California was arrested whereas driving within the again seat because the automotive rolled down a freeway.
After investigating two deadly crashes involving Autopilot, the Nationwide Transportation Security Board really helpful that Tesla set up a digital camera system to make sure that drivers had been paying consideration. The company mentioned in October that Tesla hasn’t formally responded.
Tesla has mentioned that, regardless of their names, Autopilot and “Full Self-Driving” are solely driver help techniques and can’t drive themselves. It says drivers ought to all the time listen and be able to take motion.