Talk about distracted driving. That motorist speeding towards you or behind you in a Tesla Model 3 may be playing a video game – literally, on his touchscreen dashboard, an unsafe activity that could lead to an accident.
Until last summer, the dozen-or-so video games in Tesla’s software package could be played only when a car was in park. That changed when an update was beamed to the vehicles. Now drivers and front-seat passengers of the Tesla 3 can play 12-or-so games without hands on the wheel, creating a hazardous situation for themselves and the public.
The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration learned about the problem and is investigating, according to The New York Times. Some safety experts have suggested that the model be recalled.
What is Distracted Driving?
Distracted driving is any activity that diverts attention from safe driving, like texting, eating and drinking, and talking to other passengers or on your phone. Some states like Illinois outlaw the hand-free use of cell phones while driving, but the law and threat of fines don’t always stop the practice.
Tesla’s Autopilot system, which can steer, slow, and accelerate a car on its own, has been criticized for several years because it allows drivers to take their hands off the steering wheel for extended periods and allegedly lacks the means to ensure that drivers keep their eyes on the road.
Entertainment Screens a Risk
NHTSA has issued guidelines to automakers, indicating that any in-vehicle entertainment devices should be designed so the driver cannot use them to perform inherently distracting secondary tasks while driving. Automaker Fiat Chrysler, for example, offers an entertainment system to play DVDs on its front screen, but the system shuts down when the car is in “park” mode.
Back to the Tesla 3. Jason Levine, executive director of the nonprofit Center for Auto Safety, has indicated that NHTSA has the authority to declare the vehicles defective and to seek a recall.
“There’s little question that having a large screen next to the driver on which the driver, or a passenger, can play a video game while the vehicle is moving is an unreasonable safety risk,” he wrote. “NHTSA’s recent statements would suggest this feature has violated both the spirit and letter of NHTSA’s driver distraction guidelines and the law.”
NOTE: On December 23, a federal safety regulator announced that Tesla agreed to modify the software in its cars to prevent drivers and passengers from playing video games on the dashboard screens while vehicles are in motion.