Autonomous Cars can’t be cited for DUI

Recent Posts


Autonomous Cars (AC), or self-driving cars, are not fully autonomous yet, but they confer a certain level of immunity against DUI charges.

An NBC Investigative Reporter, Bigad Shaban, reported that a police officer can’t cite autonomous vehicles in California for moving traffic violations. Transportation laws require tickets to be issued to actual drivers. The driver can’t be cited even if the car is at fault for a moving violation. Thus, we pondered this question: can you be charged with a DUI if the car drives itself?

Let’s first examine the stop. To pull someone over, an officer needs reasonable suspicion that you broke the law. If the vehicle is in driverless mode and commits a violation, an officer may still pull that car over. However, if the officer establishes that the vehicle was in driverless mode, he may not cite the driver or conduct a DUI investigation since the person was not driving.

Under Vehicle Code Section 23152(A), “it is unlawful for a person under the influence of any alcoholic beverage to drive a vehicle.” The prosecutor must prove that the DUI defendant was driving. Under current California law, if someone has engaged autonomous driving, they are not violating 23152(A) even if the driver is impaired.

The officer may choose to make a DUI arrest without determining whether auto-drive was engaged. An autonomous system like Tesla’s Full Self-Driving (FSD) shuts down if the driver seizes control of the vehicle and comes to a stop. It may look like the driver was actually in control, and then the officer may make an arrest. Then, it’s up to the attorneys to determine whether the driver engaged autonomous driving.

Now if the vehicle crashed, the case becomes a little more complicated. Most vehicles have an event data recorder (EDR) that records sensor data in the seconds before, during, and after an accident. The manufacturers monitor this data to improve vehicle safety. A prosecutor rarely requests this type of information; usually, it’s up to the defense attorney to contact the manufacturer. The EDR data report should reveal when and where the vehicle was in auto-drive mode versus under the control of a human driver. Evidence like this could determine the outcome of the DUI auto-drive case.

While it is legal for an autonomous vehicle to drive an impaired person, that person could still potentially get stopped and even arrested for DUI if the officer believes the driver was impaired. Many traffic accidents and violations still occur, even when a vehicle is in driverless mode. We are still learning about how AC’s perform on city streets. But what is the evidence? The officer won’t extract the EDR data. And the prosecutor may try to prevent it from being admitted to trial. Only a skilled defense attorney will take the time to defend your rights to the full extent of the law.