U.S. auto safety agency presses Tesla on video game feature

A logo of the electric-vehicle maker Tesla is seen near a shopping complex in Beijing, China January 5, 2021. REUTERS/Tingshu Wang

WASHINGTON, Dec 8 (Reuters) - Expressing concern about distraction-affected vehicle crashes, the U.S. National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) said on Wednesday it is discussing with Tesla Inc (TSLA.O) the electric carmaker's software update that lets users play video games on a touch screen mounted in front of the dashboard.

Tesla added the games in an over-the-air software update sent to most of its vehicles this summer, the New York Times reported on Tuesday.

"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," NHTSA said in a statement provided to Reuters by email.

The agency said distracted driving accounts for a significant number of U.S. road deaths - 3,142 in 2019 alone. Safety advocates have said official figures underestimate the problem because not all distracted drivers admit the issue after crashes.

The Times said the Tesla update added three games - solitaire, a jet fighter and conquest strategy scenario - and said the company has a warning reading: "Playing while the car is in motion is only for passengers." The Times reported that a button asks for confirmation that the player is a passenger, though a driver could play simply by pressing the button.

Tesla did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

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 "recommend that in-vehicle devices be designed so that they cannot be used by the driver to perform inherently distracting secondary tasks while driving," the agency said.

NHTSA's guidelines "specify a test method to evaluate whether a task interferes with driver attention, rendering it unsuitable for a driver to perform while driving."

The agency in August opened a safety investigation into Tesla's driver-assistance system Autopilot after a series of crashes involving the system and parked emergency vehicles.

Reporting by David Shepardson, Editing by Will Dunham and Franklin Paul

Our Standards: The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.