Can You Be Charged With A DUI In A Self-Driving Car?

Self-driving cars have the potential to reduce or even eliminate many of the issues that currently plague our roadways, from accidents caused by distracted driving to road rage and other reckless behaviors. They also have the potential to eliminate drunk driving and the terrible outcomes that are commonly associated with that dangerous activity.

However, self-driving cars are still motor vehicles and most current laws have strict penalties for operating any motor vehicle while under the influence. This poses an important question as autonomous vehicle technologies edge closer towards primetime: "Is it possible to get a DUI for being intoxicated in a self-driving vehicle?"

Current Laws

At this time, the straightforward answer is "yes," based on how most state DUI/DWI laws are currently written. However, these laws were clearly written during a time when self-driving cars were more science-fiction fantasy than workable reality. Nevertheless, current DUI laws can still be applied to self-driving vehicles based largely on their wording.

Technically speaking, someone who's in the driver seat of a completely autonomous vehicle could end up being arrested if they're intoxicated, even if it's the vehicle that's doing the driving. The same goes for someone who's in the passenger seat of an autonomous vehicle, since it could be argued that they're still able to take over control of the vehicle.

These issues also tend to pop up in cases involving intoxicated individuals who choose to sleep off their inebriated state in the car. Even if you're not driving your vehicle, there's still a chance that you could be charged with a DUI if you're sleeping while in the driver's seat or sleeping with the ignition keys close at hand. Both situations establish the ability to take control of the vehicle even if it was never your intent to do so.

Level of Interaction

Your likelihood of being charged with a DUI in a self-driving car may depend on the level of interaction and control your vehicle requires. While there are completely autonomous vehicles in existence, most vehicles that tout "self-driving" features require some level of driver interaction. For instance, the "Autopilot" feature on the Tesla Model S requires drivers' hands to remain on the steering wheel at all times. Aside from setting a destination, a truly autonomous vehicle would require no feedback from the driver.

Meanwhile, most DUI laws specify that the driver be in actual physical control of the vehicle. This is where things become a bit murky. While today's self-driving vehicles mandate a small amount of physical control, a truly autonomous vehicle will have its software in charge of the driving.

So what happens when an intoxicated person in the driver's seat of an autonomous vehicle insists that they weren't driving? At that point, it'll likely be up to law enforcement to verify that the software was actually piloting the vehicle. However, this may create even more issues concerning reasonable searches and privacy.

Future Changes

As autonomous vehicles become commonplace, it's likely that you'll see DUI/DWI laws rewritten to cover various scenarios involving self-driving cars. For instance, laws prohibiting open alcohol containers in vehicles may be reworked to exclude fully autonomous vehicles. Whereas current laws may penalize someone for merely starting a vehicle while under the influence, future laws may not invoke any penalties for starting up a self-driving vehicle as long as the software remains in control.

For governments that see self-driving vehicles as a viable solution to drunk driving, modifying the current statutes regarding DUI/DWI is an absolute must. Without these changes, it'll prove more difficult for tomorrow's motorists to embrace the self-driving car as a risk-free alternative to driving themselves, especially if the penalties remain the same. For more information, contact visit websites like

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