Everyone knows driving while under the influence is not only very dangerous, but it's also illegal. However, with new technology like autopilot and semi-autonomous vehicles, the line between drunk driving and being responsible starts to blur. The honest answer to the question of whether or not one can be charged with a DIU while using one of these vehicles is: yes, you can almost certainly receive a DUI if you attempt to ride in a self-driving vehicle while intoxicated or impaired.
A recent case involving a man in California resulted in a DIU after he was found passed out in a drunken stupor in his Tesla that was found stopped in the middle of the San Francisco Bay Bridge. His blood alcohol level was double the legal limit and he was arrested immediately. In his defense, the driver stated that he was not driving his car because it was on autopilot.
How Florida Sees Drunk Driving
In the State of Florida, a person is guilty of driving under the influence when they are considered to be under the influence of alcoholic beverages to the extent that his normal faculties are impaired and has a blood-alcohol level of at least 0.08. A key aspect of Florida's DUI statute, however, is the following caveat: a driver meeting the legal intoxication levels is guilty of DUI if the person is "driving or in actual physical control of a vehicle within this state."
While this sounds like something that can allow for escaping the liability of the DUI, it's highly likely that a Florida court would still consider the driver to be "in actual physical control" of the vehicle, even if autopilot technology is being used.
Why Self Driving Cars Aren't Fully Self Driven
Self-driving cars still require too much interaction with the occupants. Even if there's no actual "driving" taking place, there is "operation" or "actual control." In order to activate the car and ready it for travel, a human must turn the ignition key, press a start button on the dash, or press a start button on a fob. This is considered "operation" in nearly every state. Typically someone must sit in the driver's seat for emergencies or manual override (e.g. corrective steering, braking, etc). If that person is impaired, they can receive a DUI. Tesla actually recommends-if not requires- that "passengers" in the Tesla models with autopilot remain in the driver's seat.
The case of DIUs while operating autopilot vehicles is one that's bound to evolve. As the technology becomes foolproof to the point where automobile manufacturers are willing to assume the risk of liability, the laws may change. In the meantime, if you or someone you know has been charged with a DIU while driving an autopilot vehicle, you should reach out to an experienced attorney who can help sort out the situation and get your license and driving record back on track.
Tesla Driver Found Asleep On Bay Bridge Tells CHP Car Was On Autopilot. (2018, January 19). Retrieved from https://sanfrancisco.cbslocal.com/2018/01/19/712326/