The “future” of self-driving cars is here. In Pittsburg, Uber is currently testing their fleet of self-driving cars. Pittsburg Uber customers can now order a self-driving car although during this test period, there is a safety driver at the wheel. Experts predict that self-driving cars will become a common sight on the road by 2020. Sometime in the very near future (say before 2025), self-driving cars will be available for purchase by the public. I don’t mean the type of semi-self-driving car Tesla has already introduced; I am talking about cars without a steering wheels or foot pedals!
While self-driving cars will supposedly be accident-free, I imagine that will be a long way down the road as we will probably have human-driven cars sharing the road for some time to come. I don’t envisage circumstances where we will suddenly have accident-free roads just because some cars are self-driving. Traffic cops will probably have jobs for at least another generation.
Now as an attorney who defends drivers arrested for driving under the influence, my first thought is how this will play out with the DUI laws. Imagine this scenario: Joe Partyboy takes his self-driving car out for a night on the town. Even though he is not driving it, he does have some control over the car because, after all, he has to tell it where to go. He orders his car take him to a number of bars and by time he is ready to go home, he is very drunk. He stumbles into his self-driving car and manages to input “go home” on the car’s navigation controls. On the way home, another car, the old-fashioned kind, hits Joe’s driverless car. He stumbles out of the car just about the time a police cruiser pulls up. Can Joe be arrested for DUI?
It is an interesting question that, no doubt, will be a subject in the courts in the next decade. Here’s the thing: In order to be arrested for DUI, you must be driving. California law defines a “driver” as someone who is in actual physical control of a vehicle and “driving” as intentionally causing a vehicle to move by exercising actual physical control over the vehicle even if the movement is slight. Is Joe in actual physical control of the vehicle because he tells it where to go? If there is no steering wheel or foot pedals, can he be in actual physical control?
The standard by which evidence of “driving” a vehicle under California DUI laws was enunciated by the California Supreme Court as requiring evidence of the driver’s “volitional movement of a vehicle.” (Mercer v. Department of Motor Vehicles (1991) 53 Cal.3d 753, 764.). It will be interesting to see how the courts treat DUIs once self-driving cars become commonplace. I suspect the next generation will look at the current DUI laws as “quaint” and DUI attorneys will eventually go the way of buggy-whip makers, along with traffic cops.
But in the meantime, we are still drivers of our vehicles who are subject to the DUI laws and William Weinberg continues to defend those arrested for DUI. Mr. Weinberg is an experienced defense attorney with almost 25 years experience defending drivers arrested for DUI. He is available to speak with you about your particular DUI matter by contacting him at his Irvine office at 949-474-8008 or by emailing him at firstname.lastname@example.org.