Can I Get a DUI in a Self-Driving Car?

As self-driving cars become more prevalent on American roads, questions about their safety and legal implications are being raised. One of the most common concerns is whether a person can get a DUI while riding in a self-driving car. While autonomous vehicles may seem like the perfect solution to drunk driving, there are still many legal gray areas that need to be addressed. 


To understand the potential risks and consequences of getting a DUI in a self-driving car, our DUI defense attorneys at Stechschulte Nell discuss valuable insights into the current state of DUI laws and how they apply to autonomous vehicles. 


Levels of Automated Driving  


As technology advances, however, the concept of automated driving has become increasingly prevalent. It is critical to understand the different levels of automation that exist as we continue to move toward a future with self-driving cars. 


The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) outlines five levels of automated driving:  


  • Level 0: no automation, the driver is in full control at all times  
  • Level 1: driver assistance such as Adaptive Cruise Control or Lane Assist  
  • Level 2: partial automation, the driver must remain engaged for the automation to work 
  • Level 3: conditional automation, the car can drive itself under certain conditions 
  • Levels 4 and 5: high and full automation, human interaction is not needed but it is optional  


Currently, available vehicles fall into Levels 1-2 categories while Levels 3-5 are still being developed, but even future fully automated vehicles will require some level of human interaction in certain situations. 


Buzzed Behind the Wheel of a Self-Driving Car: Breaking the Law? 


In Florida, the law still requires that a human driver be in control of a vehicle at all times. This means that even if you’re behind the wheel of a self-driving car, you can STILL be arrested for DUI. 


The reason for this is simple—current laws don’t distinguish between traditional cars and autonomous ones when it comes to impaired driving.  


If you’re operating any type of vehicle while under the influence, you’re committing a criminal offense.  


It doesn’t matter whether were in control of your car at the time – what matters to law enforcement is that you put other drivers at risk by getting behind the wheel while intoxicated. 


Defining Physical Control of a Vehicle  


According to Florida law, a driver can be charged with DUI if they are in “actual physical control” of the vehicle while intoxicated. This means that even if the driver is not actively driving the vehicle, but can operate it while under the influence, they could still face arrest and charges. 


The term “actual physical control” is often debated among legal experts and varies on a case-by-case basis. Factors that the court uses to determine whether a driver was in “physical control”  include: 


  • The person was found in the driver’s seat  
  • Whether the engine was running 
  • Where the keys were located 
  • Whether or not the driver had been sleeping or using drugs 
  • If the vehicle is parked on the side of the road or highway  


In Florida, if an officer finds someone sleeping in their car while intoxicated with the keys in the ignition or within reach of the driver’s seat, they will most likely be arrested for DUI. However, there is an exception if the person was not operating the vehicle at the time they fell asleep.  


A defense attorney may argue that since they were not driving when they were found by police officers and had no intention to drive until sobering up sufficiently; therefore, they should not be charged with DUI. 


Read More > Can an Unconscious Driver Consent to a DUI BAC Test? 


Autonomous Driving & DUI Traffic Stops  


If an autonomous vehicle is operating properly, there should be no reason for law enforcement to make a DUI stop. These vehicles are designed with advanced technology that ensures they follow all traffic rules and regulations and maintain safe driving distances at all times. But remember, that does not excuse anyone from getting behind the wheel of an autonomous vehicle drunk.  


Bottom line: Law enforcement officials have the right to make a lawful traffic stop if they suspect someone is driving under the influence in Florida regardless of what kind of vehicle they are driving.  


Tampa Bay DUI Defense  


While self-driving cars may seem like a futuristic solution to drunk driving, the reality is that individuals can still be charged with a DUI if they are in “physical control” of the vehicle. This includes being able to operate or manipulate any of the car’s features.  


If you have been charged with a DUI in any context, it is crucial to seek the guidance and representation of our experienced DUI defense attorneys at Stechschulte Nell Law. We will work tirelessly to protect your rights and defend your case in court. Contact us today for a FREE DUI case review.  


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