Slamming high speed into the back of a parked fire truck on the scene of an accident was one of two drunk driving accidents in California this month in which self-driving cars were blamed. The Tesla sedan was traveling at 65 mph when it hit the emergency vehicle. In the second incident, the driver of an autonomous vehicle was arrested and charged with a DUI when he was found passed out behind the wheel. His blood alcohol content was two times the legal limit. In both cases the drivers told authorities they were not driving, the cars were.
Don’t blame it on the car
Just because your car can drive itself, doesn’t mean it is solely responsible for accidents. Tesla warns its patrons that “autopilot is intended for use only with a fully attentive driver.” The driver must be alert because ultimately they are responsible for the vehicle and its actions. Even if it was possible to claim that you were not driving, there are still "physical control" laws that could apply to self-driving vehicles. If the driver can take control of the vehicle from the auto-drive system, these regulations are applicable.
The House passed a bill in late 2017 directing the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration to implement guidelines for autonomous cars similar to those of manually driven cars. The most dangerous situation may be for individuals that have been drinking and suddenly the car wants the driver to take over.
Partially autonomous driving systems are giving drivers a false sense of security. As the industry continues to grow and technology advances, drivers could become overconfident in their vehicle’s ability making it all the easier to forget they are not foolproof.