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Can You Get a DWI in a Self-Driving Vehicle?

It was bound to happen. A driver of a self-driving vehicle has claimed he was not driving while intoxicated (or under the influence) because the car was driving itself. The California Highway Patrol in San Francisco first reported finding an individual passed out behind the wheel of a Tesla with a BAC nearly twice the legal limit.

Are you “driving” a self-driving vehicle?

It seems like the first question should be whether a person is actually “driving” a self-driving or autonomous vehicle. The reality is most DWI and DUI laws are do not have the word “driving” in the description of the actual offense. Texas, for instance, focuses on whether or not the vehicle is being “operated” and not on whether the vehicle was being driven. Further complicating matters, “operation” is not defined in the statute. Over time courts have handed down decisions that explain what operation means. While we’ve covered operation of a vehicle in detail previously, it basically means using the vehicle for its intended purpose (which has meant anything besides sitting in a running vehicle – and can be as little as putting your foot on the brake, or the car being in neutral instead of park).

If merely putting your foot on the brake or having the car in drive have been enough to find that a person was operating a vehicle then rest assured courts are going to find owners of autonomous vehicles were operating their vehicles…at least for now.

How Can You Get a DWI in an Autonomous Vehicle?

To understand why you will be charged with a DWI in an autonomous vehicle, you have to understand the current state of autonomous technology that available to consumers. There are five levels of autonomous driving, ignoring “Level 0” which just means there is no automation. As of 2018, most autonomous cars on the road was are Level 2 vehicles. Here’s a look at the levels of automation.

levels of self driving vehicles


Level 0 | No Automation

The vehicle has no automation. Cars that require human input for all driving tasks fall into this category. Cars with standard cruise control also fall in this category.

Level 1 Automation | Driver Assistance Required

Vehicles equipped with adaptive cruise control fall into Level 1 Automation. Adaptive cruise control is the vehicle maintains a specific distance from the vehicle in front of it. In other words, the vehicle can speed up and slow down based on external factors. At Level 1 the driver is still required to maintain control of the vehicle. Vehicles in Level 1 may also have features to keep the vehicle in the lane. Level 1 vehicles will not control steering and speed simultaneously.

Level 2 Automation | Partial Automation

If the vehicle is able to control both steering and speed simultaneously, it falls into Level 2 Automation. Examples of vehicles that have Level 2 Automation include Tesla, Volvo with Pilot Assist, Mercedes with Drive Pilot, and Cadillac’s with Super Cruise. Every manufacturer has their own safety requirements built in, such as a requirement to keep your eyes on the road or touch the steering wheel every minute. While Level 2 Automation may allow for drivers to relax considerably and turn a lot of functions over to the car, Level 2 Automation only works in certain areas and under certain conditions. The drive must be attentive and take over if the conditions exceed the vehicle’s abilities.

Cadillac Super Cruise

Volvo Pilot Assist

Mercedes Auto Pilot

Tesla Autopilot

Level 3 Automation
At Level 3 Automation, the car takes over active monitoring of the environment. The Audi A8 with Audi AI Traffic Jam Pilot is reportedly the first vehicle to have achieved Level 3 Automation. Even at Level 3, the drive must be available to take over. Right now the Audi AI can take over completely at speeds under 37 mph when certain other conditions are met, but the human driver must take over if speeds reach 37 mph or if one of the other conditions are no longer met.

Level 4 Automation
A Level 4 Automation vehicle can control the vehicle completely under most conditions but will require driver attention when something about the environment changes – poor weather for example.

Level 5 Automation
Once we reach Level 5 Automation, the car does all the driving, all the time, regardless of condition.

The post Can You Get a DUI or DWI in an Autonomous Vehicle? appeared first on Varghese Summersett PLLC | Fort Worth Criminal Defense Attorneys.

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