One of many sleek new features that Teslas boast is a large, single touchscreen panel that replaces the dashboard. This touchscreen acts as not only the dashboard screen that you’ll find in many new cars, but also holds all of the physical buttons you would normally find on the dash. This includes controls for heating and air, headlights, and more. It also has features for maps and music of course, with customizable options.
As Tesla sales and updates continue, some concerns are arising about the large touchscreen causing drivers to become distracted. The three types of distractions that can cause a car accident are visual distractions, manual distractions, and cognitive distractions. Unfortunately, Tesla touchscreens can cause all three types, since they involve looking, touching, and potentially thinking.
Video Games While Driving?
One of the earliest concerns with this touchscreen in terms of causing distractions is when Tesla announced a video game feature. Obviously the idea of drivers playing video games while operating a vehicle is scary to most, especially with how early we are in autonomous vehicle development. Tesla is still not a fully self-driving car, meaning that drivers may need to take control at any time and should not have access to video games. Fortunately they listened to auto safety regulators and disabled access to the video game feature while the car is in motion.
Cabin Cameras Fail
Even with videogames gone, the Tesla touchscreen still may cause other distractions. Just last year, flaws were found in new safety features that claimed to ensure the driver is alert. The safety feature in question is cabin cameras, built into the inside of some Teslas, to detect if drivers are still alert even when using Autopilot. The cameras would also allegedly alert the driver if they need to pay closer attention to the road.
However, a test done by Consumer Reports found that while driving a Tesla on autopilot, you could still look away at your phone without any alerts from the car. Additionally, the testers were able to continue using Autopilot and Full Self-Driving even after blocking the cabin car cameras. This just continues to show how early it is in the development of this technology.
Just earlier this month, 130,000 Teslas were recalled for issues with the touchscreen. Reports say that some of the car’s dashboard screens have been overheating, lagging, and going blank. It could certainly be distracting if the screen providing directions suddenly goes dark, leaving the driver scrambling to try and fix it. Not only that, but the screen holds all of the car’s dashboard controls, so the driver would not be able to utilize important things like the turn signal. This only increases the safety risks.
Now Tesla has released a major FSD Beta (Full Self-Driving) software update. This update will allow the vehicle to autonomously drive the passenger to a programmed destination, although the person must stay alert in case they need to take control. This technology is still at Level 2 of the driver assist system, meaning a driver who can take control is still required. These new updates are slowly moving Teslas further in the direction of being fully autonomous, but we must be careful to ensure it’s done safely and with few distractions to the driver.