Technologist - The FindLaw Legal Technology Blog

The Future Is Here, and So Are Autopilot DUIs

Headlines were made over the weekend when one Tesla driver made history on San Francisco's Bay Bridge after being arrested for a DUI. While that alone isn't so epic, allegedly, the driver was found asleep, with the car stopped on the bridge, and he is alleged to have claimed that he wasn't driving, but rather had the vehicle's autopilot engaged

This delightful DUI actually raises quite a few legal questions about the use of driverless cars. Currently, the law permits the use of the Tesla autopilot and other similar features so long as the driver is present and can take over control. Unfortunately for the inebriated, for the time being, the law does not permit individuals to autopilot under the influence either. If the limited facts known are true, the case probably isn't a winner, but it'd sure be interesting.

Autopilot-ing Under the Influence

Driverless cars and autopilot features have been hotly anticipated over the last few years as both automakers and software companies have collaborated to make it happen. However, the technology just doesn't seem to be ready for use, especially by the drinking public, given that we're reading about some allegedly drunk Tesla driver who will probably later claim that he was ratted out for a DUI by his own car. (The car just stopped on a bridge!)

In all seriousness though, for the time being, it's probably a safe bet that if you're pulled over in a self-driving car while you're over the legal limit, you could be looking at a DUI if you're behind the wheel or in "control" of the car.

Of Fact or Law

Whether a person could potentially escape liability for a DUI in a self-driving car under the current laws in most states is not that debatable, and not at all likely. But, as driverless cars continue to develop and be tested, and the law is updated to reflect that development and the results of the testing, things could very well change. At some point, it might very well be worth trying the issue of whether a person should be held liable for DUI in a driverless or autopiloted vehicle. However, until that day comes, it'll still be just a little bit funny (in a dark 2001 way) when a car's autopilot strands a drunk person on a bridge.

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