One of the biggest long-term goals in transportation is the development of fully autonomous (self-driving) vehicles. Many futurists and tech experts believe that self-driving cars would significantly reduce the risk of car accidents, minimize traffic jams and allow drivers to focus on more enjoyable tasks during their commute.
Among the biggest potential benefits would be the elimination of drunk driving arrests and alcohol-related crashes. If fully self-driving vehicles were on the market today, drinkers would have a designated driver ready and waiting to take them home after a night out with friends.
Unfortunately, self-driving cars are still being developed. And although automakers have introduced some semi-autonomous driving features, they still require the cooperation of an attentive, sober human driver.
In November of last year, two intoxicated adults in Indiana were killed when the Tesla they were traveling in crashed into a tree. Officials for Tesla recently weighed in to say that the driver of the vehicle was likely not using the "autopilot" feature, which is among the most sophisticated driver assistance systems currently on the market. Toxicology tests show that both the driver and the passenger had blood-alcohol concentrations well above the legal limit.
Based on the wreckage, police believe that the driver may have been speeding. Tesla officials said that if autopilot had been engaged, the vehicle's software would have slowed the car's speed to less than 35 mph, the posted speed limit in the area.
Even if the two crash victims had survived and even if autopilot had been engaged, the driver could still have faced DUI charges. The "autopilot" name is misleading, because it requires drivers to be attentive (and sober) and ready to take control of the vehicle at any moment.
Until or unless vehicles become fully autonomous, there will likely be many legal questions about crash liability and criminal liability for drivers who get behind the wheel but rely on driver assistance technology while intoxicated. As is currently the case, anyone facing drunk driving charges should seek the help of an experienced criminal defense attorney immediately.