A German court has fined and banned a Tesla owner from driving for one month after a crash that happened while the driver was using the car's built-in touchscreen dashboard to adjust windshield-wiper settings.
Surprisingly, this case didn't involve Tesla's Autopilot system, which was activated in multiple crashes in the US and has drawn sharp criticism from the US National Transportation Safety Board.
As reported by German tech site Golem, a regional court judge in Germany decided that the Tesla S's touchscreen user interface for controlling the intervals of the windshield wiper required too much attention from the driver.
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It therefore found him in breach of road-traffic regulations designed to stop people being distracted by their phones while driving.
The decision, made in the Karlsruhe district court, involved a non-fatal crash in heavy rain on a federal highway. While changing the windshield-wiper settings, the driver crashed into a highway sign and several trees.
As the court noted, the Tesla driver could turn on the wiper from the steering wheel, just as on most cars. However, to change the interval of wipes, the driver needed to navigate through five settings in a submenu in the Tesla dashboard user interface after pressing a windshield icon on the touchscreen.
Tesla's settings design wasn't considered responsible for the crash because it was the driver who should have understood that the system would take his attention off the road for too long.
The court held that under German regulations Tesla's built-in touchscreen counts as an electronic device, which the driver can only legally use if it's an important control for the vehicle. Drivers can only legally use the touchscreen, the electronic device, if its use is brief and doesn't distract them from the road for too long.
"The setting of the functions necessary for operating the motor vehicle via touchscreen (here: setting the wiping interval of the windshield wiper) is therefore only permitted if the view is only briefly adjusted to the screen based on road, traffic, visibility and weather conditions while at the same time looking away from the traffic situation," the decision reads.
As noted by Golem, the driver is held responsible even though the Tesla dashboard user interface design is entirely controlled by the electric vehicle maker.
ZDNet has contacted Tesla for comment and will update this article if it receives a response.