Recently, I came across an newspaper article in which a San Fran man was arrested on January 13, 2018, because he decided to take advantage of a Tesla self-driving car.  Actually, he was arrested for DUI when he was found passed out behind the wheel – the car was in self-drive mode.

Lately, I’ve been paying particular attention to self-driving cars and car accidents, but is a DUI possible even though one is not driving?

The short answer is “yes.” Why?  Well, it has to do with one of the underlying elements of any DUI case, for instance, “To prove the crime of Driving under the Influence (DUI), the State must prove the following two elements beyond a reasonable doubt:  1. The Defendant drove or was in actual physical control of a vehicle.”

Actual physical control of a vehicle means the defendant must be physically in or on the vehicle and have the capability to operate the vehicle, regardless of whether he is actually operating the vehicle at the time.

It would appear that is still a great deal of interaction with self-driving cars and its occupants.  Even if there is no control of the steering wheel, there is certainly “capacity” to operate the vehicle.  In Florida, one can be arrested for DUI, even if the keys are not in the ignition.

In self-driving cars, in order to activate the car and ready it for travel, one must turn the ignition key, press a start button on the dash, or press a start button on a fob. No matter one’s perspective, that’s “operation.” Are we headed to a not too distant future in which self-driving cars are without any occupants – perhaps.

Tesla actually recommends—if not requires— that “passengers” in the Tesla models with Autopilot remain in the driver’s seat.  If there was someone else in the driver’s seat and you were truly a passenger in the back seat of your own car with no ability to operate the vehicle, you would likely be safe from the crime of DUI

More testing from Tesla is required to cut down on accidents, but as far as DUIs, unfortunately, there is no escape from liability.