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DUIs in Self-Driving Cars

Posted by Lynn Gorelick | Sep 28, 2021 | 0 Comments

It is a violation of California's vehicle laws to  drive under the influence of alcohol (DUI). Under current laws, it is not a defense to drunk driving charges just because the driver is using a vehicle's autopilot or self-driving feature. A driver in California was recently arrested and charged with a DUI after putting their Tesla on autopilot after having too much to drink. 

California Highway Patrol officers stopped a vehicle that was driving late at night on a California freeway. According to the CHP, the driver appeared to be unconscious while behind the wheel of the Tesla. The alert was called in by the driver's spouse, who reported his wife was unconscious in a self-driving Tesla. 

Self-Driving Vehicles and DUI Laws

Under California Vehicle Code Section 23152(a), “It is unlawful for a person who is under the influence of any alcoholic beverage to drive a vehicle.” This involves the element of driving, showing the defendant drove a vehicle while impaired. Is the person behind the wheel of a self-driving vehicle considered to be driving?

California Vehicle Code Section 38750 regulates autonomous and semi-autonomous vehicles. Under California law, the operator of an autonomous vehicle is “the person who is seated in the driver's seat, or, if there is no person in the driver's seat, causes the autonomous technology to engage.”

Drivers are still responsible for monitoring the safe operation of the vehicle and be “capable of taking over immediate manual control of the autonomous vehicle in the event of an autonomous technology failure or other emergency.”

If the driver does not take control of the vehicle and the vehicle is involved in an accident, the driver may be at fault for causing the accident, even if they were using autonomous vehicle functions, including Tesla's Autopilot.

Self-Driving Vehicles and DUI Laws

In the future, DUI laws may change when there are fully autonomous vehicles on the road. However, Tesla's autopilot function does not qualify as fully autonomous. In California, there have been a number of autonomous vehicle tests and pilot programs but these generally require a human operator to be behind the wheel in case something goes wrong. 

According to the Society of Automotive Engineers (SAE), there are 5 levels of automation for vehicles. Most vehicles are at Level 0, where the driver performs all driving tasks. Some cars have Level 2 features, or partial automation. Tesla's autopilot is considered Level 2 automation. Currently, no consumer available vehicles have Level 4 or Level 5 automation. Under Level 5 - Full Automation, vehicles are capable of performing all driving functions under all conditions. 

Contact an East Bay DUI Lawyer

Many Tesla drivers in the East Bay take advantage of the Autopilot function. Self-driving vehicles may even decrease the rate of motor vehicle accidents. However, drivers are still responsible for staying sober behind the wheel, even if their car is doing the driving. 

East Bay attorney Lynn Gorelick has more than 38 years of DUI experience and understands the challenges involved. Contact a local criminal defense lawyer who understands DUI defense strategies and plea bargain negotiations.

About the Author

Lynn Gorelick

Lynn Gorelick has been an attorney for over 36 years. She is the Attorney Lynn Gorelick is the Immediate Past President of the California DUI Lawyers Association and a Faculty and Sustaining member of the National College of DUI Defense. Lynn is a Specialist Member of the California DUI Lawyers Association and lectures frequently to other attorneys regarding DUI and DMV issues.

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