US government wants to know why the hell Tesla owners can play videogames while driving now

Tesla Model S interior
(Image credit: Tesla)

We said in January that we were impressed by the gaming PC built into the 2021 Tesla Model S, which company chief Elon Musk said is powerful enough to play Cyberpunk 2077. It's accessible from any seat in the car via a wireless controller, and it seems like a nice way to spend time while your car's charging. We assumed, though, that it wouldn't be playable from the driver's seat while the car was moving.

It turns out our hopes were misplaced. The New York Times reported earlier this week that it is now actually possible to play some games on a Tesla dashboard screen while the car is in motion: Not Cyberpunk 2077 (as far as I know, anyway), but games added via software updates including Sky Force Reloaded, The Battle of Polytopia: Moonrise, and the timeless classic Solitaire, which arrived in an update released in late 2020.

The ability to game while driving went unnoticed for almost a full year (which is really a tremendous stroke of good luck) but following the Times report, the US National Highway Traffic Safety Administration said that it's looking into the situation.

"We are aware of driver concerns and are discussing the feature with the manufacturer," the agency said in a statement sent to Bloomberg. "The Vehicle Safety Act prohibits manufacturers from selling vehicles with design defects posing unreasonable risks to safety."

It's possible that the unrestricted access to the games is in fact a defect, as the Times report notes that prior to these newer additions, Tesla's built-in games could only be played while the car is in park. But it seems intentional: A message that pops up when Solitaire launches warns that "playing while the car is in motion is only for passengers," clearly indicating that Tesla knows full well that the game runs while the car is rolling. It's necessary to tap the screen before playing to affirm that you are a passenger and not a driver, but it's also necessary to read EULAs and be 18 or over to access various websites, and we all know how that goes.

Here it is in action—skip to the 1-minute mark for the relevant bit:

To be blunt, this is dangerous. Dicking around with a big touchscreen while you're piloting 4,000 pounds of steel and glass down a residential side street is a monumentally stupid idea no matter what you're doing, but at least conventional apps like GPSes and audio players aren't designed to be played with on an ongoing basis. (Which, for the record, is no justification for fiddling with them while you're driving. Pull your ass over and then figure out where you are.) Games, on the other hand, are meant to grab and hold your attention, which is absolutely what you do not want to be happening while you're behind the wheel.

It's also very illegal in some jurisdictions. 24 US states prohibit all drivers from using hand-held cellphones while driving, and the NHTSA has a whole section on the dangers of distracted driving, which killed more than 3,100 people in the US in 2019; in the Canadian province of Ontario, where I live, getting busted for distracted driving can result in hefty fines and license suspensions. And that can be for something as simple as picking up your mobile to check the time—imagine playing a bullet hell while you're blasting down the freeway at 65 mph.

Tesla hasn't yet commented publicly on this potentially murderous new feature/bug. I've reached out to the comment for more information and will update if I receive a reply.

Andy Chalk

Andy has been gaming on PCs from the very beginning, starting as a youngster with text adventures and primitive action games on a cassette-based TRS80. From there he graduated to the glory days of Sierra Online adventures and Microprose sims, ran a local BBS, learned how to build PCs, and developed a longstanding love of RPGs, immersive sims, and shooters. He began writing videogame news in 2007 for The Escapist and somehow managed to avoid getting fired until 2014, when he joined the storied ranks of PC Gamer. He covers all aspects of the industry, from new game announcements and patch notes to legal disputes, Twitch beefs, esports, and Henry Cavill. Lots of Henry Cavill.