Court Fines Driver for Using ‘Distracting’ Tesla Touchscreen

A court has ruled that Tesla’s cabin touchscreen is a distracting electronic device and has fined a driver for using it while on the move.

The BBC reports that a German court made the decision while considering the case of a driver involved in a vehicle collision in the rain attributed to his operation of windscreen wipers using the car’s standard touchscreen display. The driver now faces a fine and a driving ban. This comes at a time when most drivers in a UK study believe that in-cabin technology now poses a real threat of distraction to the point of being hazardous.

The issue revolves around the fact that while the Tesla Model 3 vehicle can automatically started the wiper function, and adjust the speed according to the heaviness of the downpour, extra speed adjustment can only be carried out using the vehicle’s touchscreen. A steering wheel mounted lever can only turn on of off the function.

So, in this case, the driver who wanted to set a different speed of wiper action had to navigate through the touchscreen menu and then choose one of five possible settings by touching the appropriate icon. The BBC says the ruling was made in March and has only come to light through an online German legal blog.

The case started at a local court in Karlsruhe that decided the driver veered out of his lane while distracted with the console, driving into an embankment and some trees. Despite acknowledging that the Tesla setup required “significantly more attention from the driver” than a traditional lever setup, it put the onus on the driver to keep their eyes on the road.

The court decided the vehicle’s touchscreen constituted an electronic device under the law designed to combat mobile phone use, which also mentioned touchscreens. Those rules say that devices can only be used while driving if it amounts to a brief glance and that the driver must account for road conditions, traffic, visibility and weather. The driver was punished under the same rules as using a phone while driving.

After being handed a one-month ban and a €200 ($234) fine, the driver appealed to the higher regional court, arguing windscreen wiper control was a safety-related feature that he needed to access. The higher court backed the first judgement deciding that whether or not the screen was a permanent part of the car was irrelevant, it decided and that it did not matter why the driver was looking at a touchscreen while driving, only that he did so.

— Paul Myles is a seasoned automotive journalist based in London. Follow him on Twitter @Paulmyles_

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