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

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The technology behind self-driving cars evolves at a rapid pace. There are already vehicles on the road riding on autopilot, but it is not the same action you see in futuristic films. Self-driving cars usually still need an attentive driver. Self-driving is essentially a safety feature meant to keep the car on the road and in the right lane. Drivers are still responsible for avoiding driving under the influence of any substance that alters motor functions and cognitive abilities. You may not need to be on such a high alert, but that does not mean you can be impaired. Ultimately, officers have a high level of discretion regarding DUI, but the specific details surrounding your situation and arrest are essential.

On What Level of Autonomy Was the Car? 


At present, self-driving cars have a low production rate. You may see Teslas on the road often. However, big automobile manufacturers, such as Ford and General Motors, are still in the research and development phases as the technology continues to adapt. Manufacturers are still incorporating some automated safety features in new models. Examples include:

  • Parking assistance aids in parallel parking by using sensors to locate the perimeters of a parking space.
  • Lane-centering assistance uses sensors to keep the car inside the lane while driving at high speed.
  • Hands-free lane-changing assistance allows the car to move into another lane at high speed when the blinker is on.
  • Adaptive cruise control is an advanced driver-assistance feature that will automatically adjust the vehicle’s speed to keep it within a safe distance from other cars. It can even bring the vehicle to a complete stop.

These features fit into a hierarchy of driver autonomy established to measure a vehicle’s ability to operate with limited or no assistance from the driver.

Level of Autonomy

According to the Society of Automotive Engineers, there are six levels of autonomy for operating a self-driving vehicle:

  • Level 0 involves no automation. Nearly all cars you see on the road operate on autonomy level zero. The driver takes full responsibility for all the car’s movements, and the safety features include only minor systems such as cruise control or the emergency brake.
  • Level 1 has features that assist the driver. You find these in more recent models. Features often include lane control assist and cruise control that adapts to maintain a safe distance from other vehicles and helps the driver stay within the legal speed limit. At level one, the driver must control braking and steering.
  • Level 2 cars allow partial automation. These contain advanced driver assistance systems that handle steering, braking, and acceleration without the driver. However, the driver must still pay attention to the surrounding area and remain in control of the vehicle.
  • Level 3 contains an automated driving system, which allows conditional automation. This means that a level three car is capable of self-driving without assistance but only on interstates or highways where the driver travels long distances. When conditions change, the driver must take back control of the vehicle.
  • Level 4 automation is highly responsive and can self-drive under more complicated circumstances than level three cars. Level four cars are not very common, but the technology to create them exists and updates consistently.
  • Level 5 entails total automation. This self-driving car can handle every possible condition or circumstance presented while driving without human assistance. Currently, level five autonomy is still in the development process and not yet present on the road. 

When DUI accountability concerns self-driving cars, the foggy areas surround the third and fourth levels. Roadways are not always accommodating for self-driving mode, so level four cars must typically remain in restricted areas and at limited speeds. Legal regulations are not entirely up to date for self-driving capabilities either.

What Do Current Laws Say About Driving Under the Influence?


The rules that govern driving under the influence or operating while intoxicated vary at the state level. However, the general understanding is that getting behind the wheel of a motor vehicle after ingesting a mind-altering substance, such as drugs or alcohol, is dangerous and illegal. To charge you with a DUI, officers must prove that you controlled the vehicle by:

  • Accelerating and decelerating
  • Steering and navigating 
  • Braking when the vehicle is in motion

For this reason, some may argue that a DUI arrest is unjust for a self-driving car of level four automation. However, you must also consider the DUI laws relating to drivers seated in a parked car. For example, police may arrest an impaired driver in some states if the vehicle is running in park mode or if the keys are in the ignition without the motor running. Similarly, cruising while under the influence in a highly automated self-driving vehicle could arguably be just as dangerous as getting behind the wheel of a parked car with the intent to drive while under the influence.

What Should You Do if the Police Pull You Over for a DUI?


Even with the limited protection of self-driving features, getting pulled over under the suspicion of DUI is highly stressful. A conviction can be financially taxing, and the repercussions often last for a year or more. However, even if you know that you have been drinking, there are a few simple things you can do to protect yourself.

  • Pull the vehicle over. Use your turn signal and stop in a safe location. The officer’s dash camera records everything you do, so you should be as careful as possible. 
  • Be polite but quiet. You do not have to answer questions, but you should not be combative. The officer will ask for your name and information about the vehicle and insurance, and you should provide it.
  • Admit to nothing. Remember that there are more ways to admit to drinking than simply saying that you have been drinking. For example, if they ask you how much you have had to drink or when you last had a drink, you can state that you would like to refrain from answering questions without a lawyer present. 
  • Do not submit to a field sobriety test or a chemical test. If the officer asks you to step out of the vehicle, you can, but you would benefit from respectfully denying any request to participate in a field sobriety test. Additionally, officers may ask you to take a breath, urine, or blood test on the spot before an arrest. Again, you can state that a lawyer advised you to refrain. 

Refusing to submit to a test will likely result in an arrest, but you still have the right to contact an attorney before speaking to anyone.

How Could a DUI Lawyer Help You?


Considering the novelty of self-driving cars, it can be challenging to understand how the laws related to driving under the influence apply to them. You could benefit from the help of an attorney with experience in DUI cases and car accident laws. Mike Morse Law Firm can help you understand the nuances of a DUI charge and advise you of your rights. Remember that an arrest for a DUI charge is not the same as a DUI conviction. Let the experienced legal team at Mike Morse Law Firm review your case for free. Contact us for a consultation as soon as possible, and we will get started on your case right away.

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