Tesla drivers can now play video video games—even with the automotive transferring

By Neal E. Boudette

NYTimes news service

Not long after buying a Tesla Model 3 that summer, Vince Patton saw a YouTube clip highlighting a feature that surprised him: three video games that can be played on the large touchscreen in front of the dash – while driving down the street .

“I thought this couldn’t be right,” said Patton, a retiree in Lake Oswego, Oregon.

But he tried it in a parking lot and was able to play a solitaire game on the Model 3 while driving. “I only did it for about five seconds and then turned it off,” he said. “I’m amazed. It just seems inherently dangerous to me.”

The automaker added the games in an over-the-air software update sent to most of its cars this summer. They can be played by a driver or a passenger in full sight of the driver, raising new questions as to whether Tesla compromises safety as it quickly adds new technology and features to its cars.

“It’s a big problem, of course, when it comes to driver concerns,” said Jonathan Adkins, executive director of the Governors Highway Safety Association, which coordinates government efforts to promote safe driving.

Tesla’s autopilot system, which can independently steer, slow down and accelerate a car, has been criticized by safety experts for several years because it allows drivers to take their hands off the steering wheel for long periods of time, even though this is not intended. And there is no effective means of ensuring that the driver can keep an eye on the road.

The combination of hands-free driving and drivers looking away from the road has been linked to at least 12 deaths in Tesla cars that were operated in autopilot mode since 2016, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. Adkins said the inclusion of video games “calls for the NHTSA to provide some guidance and regulations”.

Tesla and its CEO, Elon Musk, did not respond to several emails asking about the new video games and whether they might pose a threat to security.

Distracted driving is a major contributor to the rising number of road deaths in the United States. According to estimates by the Ministry of Transport, 20,160 people died in road accidents in the first six months of this year. That was 18.4% more than in the first half of 2020 and the highest value since 2006.

Driver inattentiveness is officially cited as the cause of about 10% of road deaths, said Steve Kiefer, an executive at General Motors who also runs a foundation dedicated to combating distracted driving. However, he and other safety experts believe the actual number is much higher, as crash investigations often overlook the distraction and identify other causes such as reckless driving.

“I think the number is closer to 50%,” said Kiefer.

The Kiefer Foundation is dedicated to his son Mitchel, who was killed in 2016 at the age of 18 when a distracted driver broke into his car on a Michigan freeway.

Distracted driving arises from activities in which the driver takes his hands off the steering wheel, averts his gaze from the road or distracts his attention from the driving task. It’s often associated with smartphone use, such as texting or emailing behind the wheel, but drivers sometimes read books or put on make-up. Some states prohibit the use of cell phones while driving. Automakers, Apple, and Google have developed in-car software that makes it easier to use voice commands to send text messages and make calls, so you can keep your hands free on the go.

Automakers have also added mechanisms to reduce potential windscreen distractions. Stellantis – formerly Fiat Chrysler – offers an entertainment system that can play DVDs on a front screen, but it gets dark when the car is pushed out of parking position. Many navigation systems do not allow manual entry of addresses while driving. Mazda vehicles prohibit most use of the dashboard screen while driving.

GM’s Super Cruise system, which can steer, brake and allow the driver to take their hands off the steering wheel, has an infrared camera to track the driver’s eyes. If they deviate from the road, Super Cruise issues a warning or switches off and returns control to the driver.

“We believe that these functions can be implemented quite safely with driver and eye monitoring,” said Kiefer, who heads GM’s international activities.

Some Tesla cars have simpler cameras that look at a driver’s face, but the cameras see less in the dark and don’t track the eyes precisely. Four years ago, after investigating a fatal autopilot crash, the National Transportation Safety Board recommended Tesla add an infrared camera to improve driver monitoring, but the company didn’t do it.

“It’s incredibly frustrating,” said Jennifer Homendy, chair of the security committee. “We’re trying to warn the public and tell Tesla, ‘Hey, you need to take some safety precautions.’ But they don’t have that. “

The Safety Committee investigates traffic accidents and can recommend measures to improve safety, but has no power to force companies to take action. NHTSA fulfills this role.

The NHTSA has issued guidelines advising automakers that all in-vehicle entertainment devices should be designed so that the driver cannot use them “to perform inherently distracting side-effects while driving”.

Until that summer, video games in Tesla’s software package – there were more than a dozen – could only be played while a car was parked. That changed when the update was carried over to Tesla vehicles on 12/25/2021. It added solitaire; a jet fighter game, Sky Force Reloaded; and The Battle of Polytopia: Moonrise, a conquest strategy game. Patton said he had access to all three from his moving car and that he had filed a complaint with the NHTSA through their website.

In a warning that appears before the game starts, Tesla signals its knowledge that Solitaire can be played while driving: “Solitaire is a game for everyone, but playing while driving is only for passengers.” A button asks for confirmation, that the player is a passenger, but a driver can play by simply touching him.

In a second YouTube video, another Tesla owner also shows how the game can be played while driving. “It’s pretty dangerous,” says the owner in the video. “I’m sure someone will use autopilot and then play solitaire while on autopilot. Note that, Tesla. “

This article originally appeared in the New York Times.

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