U.S. opens formal investigation into Tesla letting drivers play video games

A driver touches the dashboard screen of a Tesla.
On a closed course in Portland, Ore., Tesla owner Vince Patton demonstrates how he can play video games on the vehicle’s console while driving.
(Gillian Flaccus / Associated Press)

The U.S. has opened a formal investigation into a report that Tesla vehicles allow people to play video games on a center touch screen while they are driving.

The investigation by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration covers about 580,000 electric cars and SUVs from model years 2017 through 2022.

The action follows a complaint to the agency that Teslas equipped with “gameplay functionality” allow games to be played by the driver while the vehicles are moving.


In a document posted Wednesday on its website, the agency says the feature, called “Passenger Play,” may distract the driver and increase the risk of a crash.

The agency’s Office of Defects Investigation said in the document that the game capability has been available since December 2020. Before that date, the games could be played only while the Teslas were in park.

The investigation, which covers all four Tesla models — the S, X, Y and 3 — was opened “to evaluate the driver distraction potential of Tesla ‘Passenger Play’ while the vehicle is being driven.” Investigators “will evaluate aspects of the feature, including the frequency and use scenarios of Tesla ‘Passenger Play.’”

While regulators investigate a spate of Teslas steering themselves into parked vehicles, Tesla owners have been reporting faulty collision-avoidance systems.

Oct. 7, 2021

An investigation can lead to a recall. A message was left early Wednesday seeking comment from Tesla, which has disbanded its media relations department.

Tesla owner Vince Patton, who lives near Portland, Ore., filed the complaint with the agency last month. In August, he watched a YouTube video of a Tesla owner who discovered that he could play a video game on his touch screen while the vehicle was moving.

Curious to see for himself, Patton drove his own 2021 Tesla Model 3 to an empty community college parking lot, activated a game called “Sky Force Reloaded” from a menu and did a few loops.


“I was just dumbfounded that, yes, sure enough, this sophisticated video game came up,” said Patton, a 59-year-old retired broadcast journalist.

U.S. regulators fault Tesla for not filing recall notices when it updated Autopilot software to do a better job of spotting parked emergency vehicles.

Oct. 13, 2021

He tried Solitaire, too, and was able to activate that game while driving. Later, he found he could browse the internet while his car was moving.

Patton, who says he loves his car and has nothing against Tesla, worries that drivers will play games and become dangerously distracted.

“Somebody’s going to get killed,” he said. “It’s absolutely insane.”

So he filed the complaint early last month.

“NHTSA needs to prohibit all live video in the front seat and all live interactive web browsing while the car is in motion,” Patton wrote in his complaint. “Creating a dangerous distraction for the driver is recklessly negligent.”