U.S. seeks more information from Tesla on distracted drive game probe

FILE PHOTO: A Tesla logo is seen on a Parisian taxi car in Paris, France, December 14, 2021. REUTERS/Sarah Meyssonnier/File Photo

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - U.S auto safety regulators on Tuesday said they have sought additional information from Tesla Inc in its probe into 580,000 vehicles over the automaker's decision to allow games to be played by passengers on the front center touchscreen.

In December, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) opened a preliminary evaluation into 2017-2022 Tesla Model 3, S, X, and Y vehicles over the vehicle's "Passenger Play" feature the agency said "may distract the driver and increase the risk of a crash."

NHTSA wants records of any crash reports tied to the feature and for Tesla to furnish a chronology of events and studies supporting its risk assessment "in employment of front seat non-driving related tasks from in-vehicle based devices even if the task is intended only for front seat passenger."

Tesla did not immediately respond to a request for comment

NHTSA said in December it has "confirmed that this capability has been available since December 2020 in Tesla 'Passenger Play'-equipped vehicles." Before then, the game feature "was enabled only when the vehicle was in park."

On Dec. 23, Tesla told NHTSA it would stop allowing video games to be played on vehicle screens while its cars are moving, the agency said.

Tesla informed NHTSA a software update will lock the "Passenger Play" feature and make it unusable when the vehicle is in motion, NHTSA said.

NHTSA asked Tesla to answer questions by March 4 including providing "trip counts in which game use occurred while the shift indicator was in drive" and include usage where vehicle sensors did not detect an occupant in the front passenger seat. It also wants data where "gameplay was concurrent with any driver intervention measures or active safety measures."

The agency in August 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.

On Nov. 29, Daimler's Mercedes-Benz recalled 227 U.S. vehicles because the vehicle infotainment systems "might allow activation of the television and internet display while driving, causing a distraction for the driver."

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."

(Reporting by David Shepardson; Editing by Bernard Orr)

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