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Can You Get a DUI in a Driverless Car?

If you're caught driving a car while you're drunk, you could be charged and convicted of DUI.

But what if the car is driving you while you're drunk?

The driver of a Tesla got an answer to that question last week when he tried to get out of a DUI by explaining to a California Highway Patrol officer that he had set his car on autopilot.

The driver was arrested anyway and charged with DUI.

CHP said the man was passed out in his car in the middle of the Bay Bridge in San Francisco, and his blood-alcohol level was twice the legal limit.

Even if he was drunk, should he have been charged with DUI? Was he actually driving? Legally, this is a tough question and one that is sure to come up again and again as driverless technology evolves and becomes more common.

Who is Liable When a Self-Driving Car Crashes?

What if you're perfectly sober and your self-driving car plows into the vehicle in front of you? Is it your fault?

Not long ago, this would have seemed like a ridiculous question. But, with more self-driving cars on the roads every day, the legal system and lawmakers are going to have to come up with answers to questions like:

  • Who is liable in an autonomous car crash?
  • Does the manufacturer pay damages when the crash is because of faulty programming or design?
  • Will cars ever be completely autonomous or will they always require discretionary decisions by a "driver?"
  • Can I get a DUI in a self-driving car?

Are Driverless Cars Really Driverless?

Not all vehicles that are advertised as "driverless" are fully automated - they require a human in the car to make decisions.

Even vehicles that are marketed as fully automated sometimes require human action. Someone must program the GPS. What if a poor decision is made when routing the car? What if the person doing the programming is drunk?

Even the "fully-automated" Tesla sometimes asks a human to take over - and there's nothing to prevent the human from just deciding he wants to take over. The owner's manual for Tesla's Model S urges drivers to keep both hands on the wheel even when the vehicle is in autopilot mode.

Who's In Control?

So, it's hard to say who's in control - the car or the driver. And if it's hard to say who's in control, it's even harder to say who's to blame when something goes wrong. The vehicle manufacturer? The driverless software developer? The driver?

This promises to be a confusing area that is sure to spawn litigation when determining blame, whether in a criminal trial or in a personal injury lawsuit.

As self-driving technology improves and the potential for human error decreases, it is a safe bet that there will be fewer collisions, that liability for collisions will slowly shift away from drivers and to carmakers, and that auto manufacturers will do everything possible to limit their liability.

Got Axelrod?

We don't see a lot of self-driving cars in South Carolina. Not yet. We know it's coming, though, and issues surrounding criminal and civil liability for autonomous car drivers will be critical for DUI defense and auto accident cases in SC.

If you or your family have been involved in an auto accident in SC, schedule a free consultation with a Myrtle Beach auto accident attorney on the Axelrod team today. Call us at (843) 916-9300 or fill out our contact form to set up a free initial consultation about your case.

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