July 21, 2022 By Matthew Wallin

California’s Laws For Autonomous Cars 

In 2012, California became the third state to allow self-driving vehicles to operate on the state’s roads. These autonomous cars are able to drive themselves without a person physically controlling them. The legislature found that these vehicles offer significant safety and convenience benefits and approved the testing and operation of autonomous cars following the California DMV regulations. In order to deploy these cars on the roads, there must be an operator present. The operator must sit in the vehicle’s driver’s seat, monitor its operation, and be able to take control of the vehicle in an emergency. 

DUIs and Self-Driving Cars 

Although fully automated vehicles exist, they are not available for general public use. Cars like Teslas, which have self-driving capabilities, are available, but operators are still expected to be present and responsible. So can you get a DUI if your Tesla is on auto-pilot? The answer is likely yes. In order for the prosecution to convict you for DUI in California under Vehicle Code 23152, it must prove the following elements: 

  • You drove a vehicle 
  • When you drove the vehicle, you were under the influence of alcohol and/or drugs 

There is no exception for self-driving cars. Even for cars on autopilot, the driver would still have to turn on the vehicle and begin driving in order to engage the autopilot system. Since the operator is in the driver’s seat and causes the car to begin moving, the prosecution can use these facts to show that you were still driving, even if you weren’t touching any controls at the time of being pulled over. 

In addition, even for autonomous cars, the operator must always be alert and ready to take over control if the autopilot feature encounters problems. The law requires safety features that allow the driver to be able to take control of the vehicle in an emergency. If you are intoxicated, you may not be aware of any malfunctions that would require you to take manual control, or you may react too slowly to avoid a traffic accident. 

This means that although a self-driving car may seem safer in theory, the chances of avoiding a DUI in a self-driving vehicle are pretty slim. However, if you are arrested for a DUI, not all hope is lost. Contact our experienced attorneys today to see how we can defend you against a DUI charge. 

The Future of Drunk Driving Laws 

With the growth of autonomous vehicles, lawmakers may need to establish new legislation to address these technological innovations. Currently, some jurisdictions allow drivers to avoid a DUI conviction if they do not have physical control over the vehicle, or if they have moved the vehicle safely off the roadway. Still, other jurisdictions will convict drivers of a DUI even if their keys are not in the ignition or they are in the backseat of the vehicle. 

In the future, DUI laws may need to differentiate between when a vehicle is completely automated versus when a driver has some degree of control over the vehicle. For example, if the driver is sitting behind the wheel, we may be able to assume that they can operate the vehicle if necessary; but if they are sitting in the passenger or back seat, this may not apply. Until such time when laws are passed that allow for intoxicated people to be driven in a self-driving car, you should exercise caution when under the influence and avoid getting behind the wheel of any car. 

Contact Wallin & Klarich Today 

California has strict laws and penalties for driving under the influence. If you are arrested for DUI, contact Wallin & Klarich as soon as possible to see how we can help. With 40+ years of experience, Wallin & Klarich is your best choice amongst Southern California criminal defense firms. Our attorneys have helped thousands of clients defend against DUIs, and we have the skills and resources to help you avoid hefty fines and jail sentences. 

With offices in Orange County, Riverside, San Bernardino, Victorville, Torrance, West Covina, Los Angeles, and San Diego, you are sure to find an available and convenient attorney near you. Discover how our team can assist you. Contact us today, toll-free at (877) 4-NO-JAIL or (877) 466-5245 for a free consultation with a skilled defense attorney.

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