With self-driving cars being tested and readied for the market in the next few years or so, many people are asking a question: if the car is self-driving, can you still get a DUI if you’re in the driver’s seat?
Tests are being run on these cars not only in the United States, but in England, France, Italy, Switzerland, Germany and elsewhere. Major industry players (Volkswagen, Ford and Audi, for example) having been testing autonomous vehicles for years. And in Phoenix, Uber and Waymo are developing prototypes. The major effort is to attempt to make sure (or at least to convince the people) that these automated vehicles are safe. And some people are asking why, if the cars are automated, the “driver” shouldn’t be able to open a can of Bud and enjoy the trip.
The short answer, at least as the law stands now in Arizona, is that drinking and driving a self-driving car is definitely against the law! There are several reasons why this is so:
- Automated cars still allow the driver to take control and override autonomous systems. Drunk people could take control of the vehicle at any time.
- What will happen – that is, who will take control of the car – if the navigation system fails?
- In Arizona, and in many other states, it is illegal not only to drive under the influence of alcohol or drugs, but also to be in “actual physical control” of a vehicle while impaired.
Interestingly, a study was released last week by the Australian National Transport Commission that argues to the contrary. The study recommends that operators of “fully self-driving cars” should be exempt from DUI laws. The argument is somewhat contorted, in that the gist of their position is that if you don’t allow drunk people to use autonomous vehicles, it will restrict their ability to get home safely after drinking.
The fact is that it will be a while before these vehicles are available commercially. There are various stumbling blocks, including the technology itself. In March, an Uber test involving over 40 cars drove a collective distance of over 20,000 miles. Impressive perhaps, but not so impressive is the fact that the drivers had to take control of the “self-driving” cars an average of once every 0.8 miles!
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