US agency closes investigation into Tesla game feature

FILE PHOTO: A Tesla logo on a Model S is photographed inside of a Tesla dealership in New York

By David Shepardson

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) said Tuesday it is closing its investigation into 580,000 Tesla vehicles over the automaker's decision to initially allow games to be played on the front center touchscreen.

Shortly after NHTSA opened its investigation into Tesla's "Passenger Play" in December 2021, Tesla agreed to stop allowing video games to be played on vehicle screens while its cars are moving. NHTSA said Tuesday it was not seeking a recall of the vehicles but said its analysis of data provided by Tesla "produced significant concerns about driver distraction during the time that it was available."

NHTSA said in closing the investigation without seeking a recall it was not indicating "a finding by NHTSA that no safety-related defect exists. Furthermore, it does not foreclose the agency from taking further action, if warranted."

Tesla, which did not immediately respond to a request to comment, told NHTSA that no consumer complaints or collisions had been reported concerning the use of Passenger Play in the subject vehicles during a year of use.

NHTSA said that a month after Tesla voluntarily disabled Passenger Play capability with an over-the-air software update it reported a 97% completion rate. NHTSA's investigation covered Tesla vehicles sold since 2017 that had the feature.

NHTSA said "apparent driver use of Passenger Play while not in Park in approximately a third of the trips in which the feature was in use demonstrates the importance of affirmative technology-based lockouts over administrative controls such as labeling or disclaimer screens."

In 2014, NHTSA issued guidelines to encourage automakers "to factor safety and driver distraction-prevention into their designs and adoption of infotainment devices in vehicles."

NHTSA's guidelines "recommend that in-vehicle devices be designed so that they cannot be used by the driver to perform inherently distracting secondary tasks while driving."

NHTSA has an ongoing investigation into 830,000 Tesla vehicles with driver assistance system Autopilot and involving crashes with parked emergency vehicles.

NHTSA said Tuesday in the Autopilot investigation it aims "to better understand human factors with respect to Tesla interfaces and the dynamic driving task."

(Reporting by David Shepardson, editing by Ed Osmond and Chizu Nomiyama)