Mercedes-Benz issued a recall for software in 227 cars after it became aware of a software error that allowed a dashboard “infotainment” screen to access the internet and allow video games to be played while the car was in motion, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA).
In documents released Friday by U.S. federal regulators, Mercedes said the issue was discovered in a company car in Germany and affects some 2021 and 2022 EQS and S models, in which an “incorrect computer configuration” allowed the functions that are supposed to be disabled while the car is in motion.
“If an occupant were to actively select the function or application while the vehicle is driving, then driver distraction might result, which could increase the risk of a crash,” the company wrote in the documents.
The automaker said the issue has been fixed after an update to an internal computer server, and no crashes or injuries were reported because of the issue.
Earlier this week, the NHTSA confirmed reports it’s looking into why a similar issue reported last month by a Tesla 2021 Model 3 owner in Oregon did not trigger a recall. Thursday, the auto regulation agency said it has begun communications with Tesla about the issue.
“We are glad to see Mercedes recall and repair this unreasonable risk to everyone on the road, but would urge NHTSA to move quickly to ensure that all screen-based entertainment distractions are disabled when vehicles are in motion, no matter the manufacturer,” Jason Levine, executive director of the nonprofit Center for Auto Safety said.
A few days after reports surfaced that Tesla allows drivers to play video games on dashboard touch screens while vehicles are moving, Mercedes-Benz has issued a U.S. recall for a similar issue. The German automaker said in documents posted Friday by U.S. regulators that the issue affected 227 vehicles and already has been fixed by updating an internal computer server. Mercedes-Benz company logo is shown a Mercedes Benz dealership in Littleton, Colorado, on July 25, 2021.
David Zalubowski/Associated Press File
But the fact that Mercedes did the recall over concerns about distracted driving and Tesla has not raised questions about whether federal auto safety standards are being applied equally by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.
“MB is following the regulatory rules as they are supposed to—in sharp contrast to what we’ve been seeing from Tesla,” Philip Koopman, a professor of electrical and computer engineering at Carnegie Mellon University, told the Associated Press. If NHTSA doesn’t take action against Tesla, the agency will have one standard for Tesla and another for Mercedes and other automakers, Koopman said.
NHTSA didn’t directly address the double standard or Tesla but said in a statement Friday that the federal vehicle safety act prohibits manufacturers from selling vehicles that pose an unreasonable risk to safety. “Every motor vehicle manufacturer in the United States has the same responsibility to identify and immediately repair, for free, such safety defect in their vehicles,” the statement said.
The agency said it’s assessing how automakers identify and safeguard against distraction hazards due to faults, misuse or intended use of infotainment screens. NHTSA said it regularly communicates with automakers about concerns, as well as reviewing consumer complaints and a “massive amount of data that companies are required to submit on a regular basis, looking for evidence of safety risks. If the data show that such a risk may exist, NHTSA will act immediately,” the agency said.
A message was left Friday seeking comment from Tesla, which has disbanded its media relations department.
The recalled cars have active and connected “Mercedes me” accounts.
NHTSA already is investigating why Tesla’s “Autopilot” partially automated driving system keeps crashing into stopped emergency vehicles, and it has inquired about why Tesla didn’t file recall documents when it did an over-the-air internet update in an effort to address the safety problem. It’s also looking into the performance of Tesla’s “Full Self-Driving” software after getting a complaint that it nearly caused a crash.
Tesla says neither system can drive vehicles and that drivers must be ready to intervene at all times.
Levine said the auto industry seems to have reached a point with infotainment screens where it will have to “choose whether to be an enabler or a preventer” of distracted driving.
Mercedes likely is paying close attention to U.S. safety laws after it had to pay a $13 million penalty to NHTSA in 2019 for a series of reporting failures involving recalled vehicles.
The automaker agreed to the payment and to fix flaws after the agency alleged that Mercedes was slow to report safety problems and wasn’t mailing out recall notification letters quickly enough.
Mercedes’ U.S. unit said at the time that it didn’t do anything wrong deliberately.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.
The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration confirmed this week it was investigating reports that the dashboard screens inside some Tesla vehicles could access the internet and even play video games while moving, features that are supposed to be disabled while moving, and features German automaker Mercedes-Benz announced a software recall for and said it has already fixed the problem in some 227 cars. A Tesla vehicle is displayed in a Manhattan dealership on January 30, 2020, in New York City.
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