This Tesla Model S is just one of 580,000 Tesla vehicles that allows video games to be played on a front center screen, which many safety advocates view as fueling driver distraction. - Image courtesy of Tesla.

This Tesla Model S is just one of 580,000 Tesla vehicles that allows video games to be played on a front center screen, which many safety advocates view as fueling driver distraction.

Image courtesy of Tesla.

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) has opened a formal safety investigation into 580,000 Tesla vehicles sold since 2017 over the automaker's decision to allow games to be played on the front center touchscreen while the vehicle is running, according to Reuters.

The preliminary evaluation covers various 2017-2022 Tesla Model 3, S, X, and Y vehicles. 

Over 3,100 people lost their lives due to distracted driving in 2019. Yet Tesla has literally put “distraction” front and center for drivers with video games that can lure the driver to take their eyes of the road and their hands off the wheel.

Known as “Passenger Play,” the series of games mounted on the dashboard, “may distract the driver and increase the risk of a crash,” warns NHTSA.

The capability for the diver to play the games while the vehicle is in motion has been available since December 2020. Prior to that date, drivers and passengers could only engage in Tesla-offered video games while the vehicle was in park.

NHTSA said it would "evaluate aspects of the feature, including the frequency and use scenarios of Tesla 'Passenger Play',” according to the Reuters report.

Earlier this month, The New York Times reported that the Tesla update added three games — Solitaire, a jet fighter and conquest strategy scenario — and said that vehicles have warnings reading: "Playing while the car is in motion is only for passengers."

The game feature asks for confirmation that the player is a passenger, but even so, a driver could still play simply by pressing a button, according to The Times report.

In 2013, NHTSA issued guidelines to encourage automakers "to factor safety and driver distraction-prevention into their designs and adoption of infotainment devices in vehicles."

The guidelines strongly recommend that in-vehicle devices be designed so that they “cannot be used by the driver to perform inherently distracting secondary tasks while driving,” according to NHTSA.

In August, NHTSA opened a safety investigation into 765,000 Tesla vehicles over its driver-assistance system, Autopilot, after a series of crashes involving the system and parked emergency vehicles.

A preliminary evaluation is a first step before NHTSA decides whether to upgrade a probe to an engineering analysis, which must happen before the agency can demand a recall.

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