Can You Get Arrested for a DWI While Operating a Self-Driving Vehicle?

There have been a few instances where intoxicated drivers have been found asleep behind the wheel of a moving, autonomous vehicle. In all cases, these motorists were charged with driving under the influence by law enforcement.

Although the “self-driving” feature of Tesla may seem like a good excuse for a drunk driver, such vehicles are not entirely autonomous. For the time being, the self-driving feature still requires the operator to remain alert to take control of the vehicle when necessary, especially if it malfunctions.

Even if a person isn’t driving the vehicle per se, he/she still maintains physical control of it. The prosecution will build their case to include circumstantial evidence that the self-driving vehicle was started and driven by the motorist prior to using the self-driving feature.

Circumstantial evidence of physical control of a vehicle includes the following:

  • Sitting in the driver’s seat
  • Engine is running
  • Keys are located in the ignition
  • Tires are warm
  • The vehicle is located on the road or on the side of it

Keep in mind, law enforcement must have reasonable suspicion or probable cause to pull someone over. When it comes to the incidents mentioned in the beginning, these drivers were asleep behind the wheel, which is enough evidence for police to make a traffic stop. As long as the operator of a self-driving vehicle isn’t asleep or the vehicle isn’t swerving between lanes or driving recklessly while the self-driving feature is enabled, there is no reason for police to stop the vehicle.

If you have been charged with a DWI in North Carolina, schedule a free consultation with our Raleigh criminal defense attorneys at Sandman, Finn & Fitzhugh today.


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