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Self-driving cars are no longer a futuristic, far-fetched idea. They are very real, and we are already sharing the road with them today—to a degree. Tesla Autopilot is likely the most well-known self-driving system, but even it is not fully autonomous. Tesla’s own website states that Autopilot is “intended for use with a fully attentive driver, who has their hands on the wheel and is prepared to take over at any moment.” Volvo, Audi, BMW, Ford, General Motors, and Volkswagen are all in the process of developing and testing autonomous cars. Google’s ongoing Waymo project—which is now operating as a subsidiary of Google—is currently running tests of fully autonomous cars in San Francisco, California as a ride-hailing service.

Today’s vehicles are full of features that are meant to improve our safety on the road, like hands-free steering, adaptive cruise control, automated parking assist, and lane-centering steering. These features, however, do not necessarily absolve drivers from accountability when it comes to accidents and driving under the influence (DUI).

Fully automated vehicles exist, but they are not available for broad public use. Regulatory and technological hurdles may prevent self-driving cars from being readily available for another decade or so. Vehicles with self-driving capabilities like Tesla are available, but drivers are still expected to be present and attentive. This means that the chances of avoiding a DUI charge in a self-driving vehicle are pretty slim—for now.

There Are Different Levels of Autonomous Vehicles

To be fully autonomous, a vehicle would need to be able to operate on any roadway without driver involvement or intervention. The self-driving cars we see today have not reached this standard.

The following are the levels of automation, according to the Society of Automotive Engineers (SAE International) and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA):

  • Level 0: No Autonomy. The driver performs all driving tasks to operate the vehicle.
  • Level 1: Driver Assistance. Some features are available to assist the driver, like backup cameras or sensors, but the driver controls the vehicle.
  • Level 2: Partial Automation. The vehicle has automated functions that can combine to assist the driver, like adaptive cruise control and lane-centering steering, but the driver is still in control of the vehicle.
  • Level 3: Conditional Automation. The vehicle can control all driving tasks in certain environments, but the driver must be ready to take control of the vehicle at any time, with notice.
  • Level 4: High Automation. The vehicle can control all driving tasks and functions in certain environments, and the driver does not need to pay attention in those specific circumstances.
  • Level 5: Full Automation. The vehicle can control all driving tasks and monitor the environment in any conditions. The driver does not have to control the vehicle and can merely be a passenger.

Most new models of vehicles fit the Level 1 and Level 2 descriptions, with certain features that are meant to assist drivers, particularly in avoiding collisions, but the drivers are still in full control. Tesla Autopilot fits the Level 3 description. In the future, we can expect to see more Level 4 and, finally, Level 5 vehicles that are fully automated and do all the work for us.

DUI Charges & Self-Driving Cars in Michigan

Even if your car has self-driving features, you could face DUI charges if you’re pulled over and the officer believes you have alcohol and/or drugs in your system. In Michigan, it is illegal to operate a motor vehicle while impaired by alcohol and/or drugs. Even if you were not actually operating the vehicle at the time of the alleged offense (i.e., the vehicle was in Autopilot mode), you could face DUI charges because you would have been responsible for taking over driving functions at an instant’s notice.

The Future of DUI Legislation Is Uncertain

There may be a time, in the not-so-distant future, where cars drive themselves and occupants are not responsible for being alert or sober. Today, we are still largely responsible for what goes on in our vehicles, even if they have self-driving features. There’s no question that legislation will have to change along with the technology that brings autonomous cars and trucks to roads across Michigan and the entire U.S. Until then, you need to obey drunk driving laws and involve an attorney as soon as possible if you’re pulled over and arrested for DUI.

Call (248) 599-0054 today to find out how I can use my experience as a Farmington Hills DUI lawyer to help you.