In the early 2000s, DVDs were quickly becoming the most common form of popular media. From portable players to vehicle installation, DVDs were popping up everywhere for consumer consumption. Numerous protections were in place to ensure drivers had to deactivate the player while the vehicle was in motion, however, to prevent media distraction.
Fast-forward to the early 2020s and technology has continued to advance by leaps and bounds. Where huge infotainment screens used to be a rarity, they are now considered a standard feature by many vehicle manufacturers. Unfortunately, these screens, while positioned as a safety and convenience feature, often become an enhanced conduit for driver distractions.
The ‘Passenger Play’ feature
The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) quickly opened an investigation into the possibility of Tesla drivers playing video games on the center console’s touch screen. This feature, called Passenger Play, has undergone numerous refinements through various software updates. Previously, the feature could only be enabled when the vehicle was in “park” mode. The NHTSA initiated the investigation to uncover the scope of various consumer complaints and determine the potential lack of safety protocols in place to protect vehicle occupants.
The investigation could cover the potential for driving distraction under two prongs:
- Distractions caused by watching a passenger play video games on the center screen.
- Distractions caused by playing video games while in control of the vehicle.
In response to the investigation, Tesla has announced it will disable the Passenger Play feature. It is not clear if the feature will reappear in the future with different protocols in place. The NHTSA confirmed they will continue its probe.
Why could this be a problem?
Distractions of any type can take a driver’s attention away from the task of safe vehicle operation. Distractions like texting, eating or reading while behind the wheel can lead to serious collisions with deadly consequences. From drifting into oncoming lanes to failing to recognize stopped traffic, a distracted driver can collide with other vehicles causing brain trauma, spinal cord damage and amputation. Safety experts caution manufacturers to exercise restraint in introducing advances in technology that could potentially cause more harm than they prevent.