Imagine hopping into a car, punching in an address, and letting the car automatically drive to your destination of choice. Sounds like the stuff of science-fiction tales, doesn't it? However, recent advances in technology are bringing the dream of a completely autonomous vehicle closer to reality. Some cars even come with very limited self-driving capabilities, and research is still ongoing to make these vehicles more autonomous.
Self-driving cars even have the potential of making intoxicated and impaired driving a thing of the past. But before you start imagining a future where autonomous vehicles help you get back from the bar, you should know how this technology could affect and potentially change DUI/DWI laws.
Current Laws Still Apply to Self-Driving Vehicles
One of the wrinkles that need to be ironed out when it comes to DUI and self-driving vehicles is the driver's level of physical control. True autonomous vehicles require zero physical control outside of setting the destination, but today's self-driving cars require a more hands-on approach. On many vehicles, the driver must keep their hands on the steering wheel at all times for the self-driving feature to remain active. However, this puts the driver in direct control of the vehicle as far as most laws on DUI/DWI are concerned.
There are other aspects of the so-called "physical control doctrine" that puts owners of self-driving vehicles at risk of being charged with a DUI offense. These aspects not only include whether or not the vehicle itself is on public roads but also the actual location of the driver inside the vehicle, the vehicle's operational state, and even the location of the keys inside the vehicle.
In the case of a vehicle with full autonomous capability, proving the driver's innocence is a matter of determining whether the vehicle was in a truly autonomous state at the time of the observed offense. When it comes to today's self-driving vehicles, however, drivers are still subject to the same laws and penalties as anyone driving an ordinary vehicle.
Future Legislation May Bring Changes
Technology refuses to stand still. As the years progress, self-driving technology will likely improve to the point where vehicles genuinely become autonomous in nature. These technological changes may also drive legislative changes, especially when it comes to the laws governing how DUI and DWI offenses are dealt with.
For instance, future legislation written with consideration for self-driving technology may reduce or, in some cases, completely eliminate DUI and DWI penalties based on the driver's level of control over the vehicle. Laws governing open alcoholic beverages may also change to account for fully autonomous vehicles. These considerations could make it safer for someone to travel home without fear of being charged with a DUI, provided the vehicle's self-driving software does all of the driving for them.
Evolving Technology Also Plays a Role
Proving if someone was in control of their vehicle while in an intoxicated state also becomes easier with advances in self-driving vehicle technology. Advanced telemetry can track a driver's behavior as well as the vehicle's state, making it easier for law enforcement officials to determine whether the driver was truly in control of the vehicle while intoxicated.
Vehicle manufacturers may also be mandated to create safety features that provide failsafe mechanisms against drunk driving, removing an intoxicated driver's control over the self-driving vehicle. These mechanisms may include technology that visually analyzes the driver for signs of drunkenness or passively measures blood alcohol levels via breath samples.
Truly autonomous vehicles are still decades away, but the technology continues to evolve at a fast pace. Until the day comes when a self-driving car can whisk you away from the local bar, you're better off calling a designated driver or a cab to pick you up, lest you wind up with a DUI or DWI charge.
To learn more about DUI/DWI charges, get in touch with a criminal defense attorney.