Tesla has added a new feature — video games that can be played by the driver on a large touchscreen mounted in front of the dashboard — to most of its cars, causing trepidations among safety advocates, according to The New York Times.
This summer, the automaker added the games in an over-the-air software update that was sent to the majority of its cars. The three games can be played by a driver or by a passenger.
The move has raised concerns that Tesla is compromising safety by essentially inviting motorists to engage in distracted driving behavior. Distracted driving claimed the lives of 3,142 people in the U.S. in 2019 alone, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA).
For many years, Tesla’s autopilot system, which can steer, slow, and accelerate a car on its own, has been the target of criticism from safety experts because it allows drivers to take their hands off the steering wheel for extended periods, notes the Times report. Moreover, the system lacks an effective means of ensuring that drivers keep their eyes on the road.
In fact, the combination of hands-free driving and drivers’ looking away from the road has been linked to at least 12 traffic deaths since 2016 in Tesla cars that were operating in autopilot mode, according to NHTSA.
The addition of video games appears to many safety advocates to be alarming — like accidents just waiting to happen.
For example, a spokesperson for the Governors Highway Safety Association told The Times that Tesla’s implementation of video games that play in view of the driver is a move that cries out for NHTSA to provide some guidance and regulation.
Previously, NHTSA issued guidelines telling automakers that any in-vehicle entertainment devices should be designed so the driver cannot use them “to perform inherently distracting secondary tasks while driving.”
Until this summer, the more than 10 video games in Tesla’s software package could be played only while a car was in park. That changed when the 2021.12.25.6 update was beamed to Tesla vehicles. Now, there are three new games that can be used while the car is in motion.