Can You Get a DUI in a Driverless Car?

Drivers know that driving under the influence of alcohol or drugs is serious. It can be the reason behind a major accident, and the fines and high insurance rates can create significant financial hardship. One of the ways in which DUI arrests may be curbed in the future is through the use of driverless cars.

Once driverless cars are commonplace, people who have been drinking and need to go somewhere won’t be behind the wheel (technically), so they won’t have to worry about driving home. They can just let the car take them where they need to go, or so the theory goes.

Siri, Take the Wheel

Current laws in the United States allow for driverless cars. The majority of these cars are seen in California, where they are developing in popularity and are expected to continue to do so. Google is at the head of the driverless car program, and the pressure the company put on lawmakers has changed the game for what is allowed on US roads.

With millions of miles driven and only 13 accidents (all of which were said to be based on human error), Google has also shown that driverless cars can do what is needed to operate safely on the road and avoid problems with other vehicles.

Despite the laws allowing driverless cars, though, many people are still uncomfortable with them and the laws have not yet caught up with everything that can happen based on not actually having a driver at the wheel.

What Does Florida Have to Say?

Even if you plan to get a driverless car, keep in mind that the laws in Florida aren’t clear on how everything will work if you’re found under the influence in a driverless vehicle. This could happen at a checkpoint, for example. The issue becomes whether you are still legally responsible for the car, even if you are not technically behind the wheel.

If you have control of the car at any point, or if the car can be switched from automatic to manual mode, there is concern that you may be driving at some point. Whether you were or weren’t becomes a subject for debate, making it difficult to rule as to whether you were violating any laws.

Currently, Florida’s drunk driving law only requires a person to be “driving or in actual physical control of a vehicle” at the time they are under the influence so their normal faculties are impaired. The way the law is written allows the state to charge a person with a DUI even if they’re not driving the car – they just have to be in actual physical control of one. Confused? Here’s an example:

At about 3:10 a.m., the defendant was found lying down, asleep in the front seat of his automobile. His car was in a parking lot, the car’s automatic gear shift was in the park position, its key was in the ignition in the off position, its “lights” were on, and its engine, not running, was cold.

Not driving should mean he shouldn’t be charged with a DUI, right? Well, the appellate court held that there was enough evidence that the defendant was “in actual physical control” of the vehicle to let a jury decide.

If the current law goes unchanged it would mean a person could get a DUI for letting the car drive them home, as long as the person has the ability to control the car – even if they don’t take the car off of auto-pilot. But (and this is a big but) driverless cars will likely end up eliminating the main reason DUI investigations happen in the first place: minor traffic offenses. If a driverless car doesn’t break traffic laws then there’s no reasonable basis for a police officer to conduct a traffic stop.

Florida and other states will have to set laws and regulations based on the specific use of driverless cars, DUIs, and related factors, especially if they want to continue to make money off driving citations. The state and its larger cities stand to lose millions of dollars in parking tickets, DUIs, and other traffic violation revenue through the use of self-driving cars.

When Will Driverless Cars Be Commonplace?

It is estimated that driverless cars will be commonplace in approximately 2035. When that takes place, DUI issues and related concerns will be much more significant.

The goal is to create and adjust the laws well before that time, in order to make sure that states are ready for the influx of driverless cars. By making changes early on, Florida will be prepared and they can provide information on the use of these kinds of cars when people receive their driver’s license, car tags, or simply call or go online to get answers to these questions.

Right now, there aren’t clear laws in place for DUIs and other liability issues for self-driving cars, and that can open up serious legal and financial issues for owners of these cars. Florida will need to step on the gas and figure out what laws it wants to implement for driverless cars and the “drivers.”

Concerns About Drinking and Using Driverless Cars

In a driverless car, someone might not have any concerns about drinking and then getting in their car. They won’t technically be driving, maybe, so drinking and then heading home could suddenly appear a lot safer.

However, being able to program the car safely so it drives correctly and takes you home may not be easy if you’ve had too much to drink. That is one of the biggest concerns with this issue, along with liability concerns and the risk of needing to take over manual mode and not being sober.

Only time (and lots of lobbyists and campaign donations) will tell how the issue of DUIs and driverless cars will be settled, but it is clear that the laws will need to be changed and adjusted in Florida to accommodate the rapid advancement of new technology in cars.