January 10, 2019 By Matthew Wallin

Tesla’s autopilot feature in its vehicles allows the car to drive with minimal input from the driver. A California man recently tried to take advantage of this feature when he put the car on autopilot mode in order to avoid driving drunk. He wasn’t technically “driving” the vehicle. So, could he be charged with DUI?

Autopilot Doesn’t Replace the Operator

A California Highway Patrol officer recently spotted a Tesla Model S driving above the speed limit and noticed the driver asleep in the driver’s seat. The officer turned on the patrol car’s lights and siren, but the driver did not respond.

According to reports, the quick-thinking officer realized the autopilot feature on the Model S was likely engaged, so he pulled in front of the vehicle and gradually slowed down until the Tesla came to a stop. After waking him up, the officer placed the driver under arrest for driving under the influence of alcohol.

The “D” in “DUI” (VC 23152)

In order to convict you of DUI under California Vehicle Code Section 23152, the prosecution must prove that:

You drove a vehicle, AND
You were under the influence of an alcoholic beverage and/or a drug or the combined influence of both when you drove the vehicle.

So, if the driver in the above case had his Tesla on autopilot, can he be arrested for driving under the influence? The answer to that question lies in how “driving” is defined under VC 23152.

In the 1985 case People v. Wilson (176 Cal.App.3d Supp. 1, 8.), driving was held to mean to cause “a slight movement” of a vehicle. This can be established by either the direct observation of an officer or by showing enough circumstantial evidence to indirectly prove the person drove the car.

So, in the case of a Tesla with autopilot engaged, the operator would have to turn on the vehicle, begin driving and engage the autopilot system. The prosecution is likely to use the officer’s observation of the vehicle in motion at 70 miles per hour and the fact that the operator was in the driver’s seat at the time to prove that the defendant is guilty of DUI, and engaging the autopilot may be enough circumstantial evidence to show that the defendant caused a slight movement of the car while under the influence of drugs or alcohol.

Although neither technology nor the law has yet evolved to the point where a person can get behind the wheel of a self-driving car while under the influence of drugs or alcohol, it does not mean that you have no defense to DUI if you were arrested while operating a self-driving car. Contact an experienced DUI defense attorney at Wallin & Klarich immediately if you have been charged with DUI.

Speak to an Experienced DUI Defense Lawyer at Wallin & Klarich

At Wallin & Klarich, our DUI defense attorneys have more than 35 years of experience successfully defending clients accused of DUI. Our dedicated team of DUI attorneys is ready to help you now.

With offices in Orange County, Riverside, San Bernardino, Los Angeles, San Diego, West Covina, Torrance and Victorville, there is an experienced Wallin & Klarich DUI defense attorney available to help you no matter where you are located.

Contact our offices today at (877) 4-NO-JAIL or (877) 466-5245 for a free phone consultation. We will get through this together.

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