Tesla’s in-dash video games can be played even while driving (updated)

More than 3,100 people died in crashes involving distracted drivers in the US in 2019.


Many Tesla vehicles allow drivers to play a selection of games on the infotainment system while the car is in motion, according to a report by The New York Times. The company rolled out an update in the summer that reportedly let drivers play Solitaire, jet fighter game Sky Force Reloaded and strategy title The Battle of Polytopia: Moonrise while on the road.

The touchscreen is said to display a warning before a game of Solitaire starts. “Solitaire is a game for everyone, but playing while the car is in motion is only for passengers," the message reads, according to the Times. That indicates Tesla knows the game is playable while the car's moving.

Although players have to acknowledge that they're a passenger, the driver can tap that button and play the game. Even if a passenger is playing something, it's possible that a driver will divert their attention to the screen to see what's happening anyway.

"Safety is central to NHTSA’s mission and we are committed to improving safety for all road users," a National Highway Traffic Safety Administration spokesperson told Engadget. "Distraction-affected crashes are a concern, particularly in vehicles equipped with an array of convenience technologies such as entertainment screens. We are aware of driver concerns and are discussing the feature with the manufacturer. The Vehicle Safety Act prohibits manufacturers from selling vehicles with design defects posing unreasonable risks to safety."

The NHTSA says 3,142 people died in crashes involving distracted drivers in the US in 2019. A 2017 study suggested that many infotainment features absorbed drivers' attention too long for them to be safe. Researchers at the University of Utah found that, when drivers used voice-based and touchscreen systems, they "took their hands, eyes and mind off the road for more than 24 seconds to complete tasks."

Drivers are supposed to keep their hands on the steering wheel when Tesla's Autopilot is engaged, but a recent study suggested drivers become less attentive when the mode is active. In August, the NHTSA said it was investigating Autopilot following a number of crashes with parked first responder vehicles. Those resulted in one death and 17 injuries.

Other automakers lock many touchscreen and infotainment features when the car is in motion. Stellantis (fka Fiat Chrysler), for instance, lets drivers and passengers watch a DVD on the dashboard screen in some vehicles, though only when the car's parked. NHTSA guidelines urge automakers to ensure that cars with infotainment devices prevent drivers from carrying out "inherently distracting secondary tasks while driving.”

Tesla has added a number of games to its infotainment system over the last few years. Until a few months ago, they were only playable while the car was parked. The Times says Tesla and CEO Elon Musk didn't respond to requests for comment — the company no longer has a PR department.

Update 12/8 10:20AM ET: Added comment from the NHTSA.