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Is It Possible To Get A DUI In A Self-Driving Vehicle?

Google Streetview Self-Driving Car

Determinations of whether an individual is guilty of driving under the influence usually hinge upon intoxication levels. In some cases, whether an individual was driving will also be a concern. As technology improves, self-driving vehicles will become more common on public roads. Self-driving vehicles present unusual concerns regarding driving under the influence.

Driving Under The Influence

Laws prohibiting driving under the influence vary from state to state. Most state laws use the words “drive” or “operate” as the prohibited act. Thus, in most states, the driver must be operating the vehicle. What constitutes driving can vary between jurisdictions; what is permissible in one state may not be permissible in another.

Disputes over whether the defendant was driving will usually center on control over the vehicle. If the vehicle is truly self-driving and if the occupant has no control over its movements, then a prosecutor will likely be unable to prove that an intoxicated individual was driving the vehicle. However, if an intoxicated individual via a remote or other unconventional means controls the vehicle, then the intoxicated individual is probably still driving the vehicle.

If the vehicle is normally self-driving but permits users to override the vehicle’s decisions, courts may view the act as similar to sitting in a parked car while intoxicated. According to our attorneys at, it is possible to get convicted of driving under the influence if one is behind the wheel of a parked car while intoxicated.

In this case, the courts will consider factors such as the location of the keys, whether the parking brake was activated, the presence of others in the vehicle, and any other relevant factors to determine whether the individual was driving the vehicle. If the vehicle was running and the driver only had to turn the wheel or operate the pedals to drive the vehicle, then a court would likely find that the driver had physical control over the vehicle, and thus, laws prohibiting driving under the influence would be in effect.

Due to the rarity of self-driving vehicles at present, what constitutes driving or operating a motor vehicle under the influence is not yet determined. In the interim, individuals interested in consuming alcohol in a vehicle should ensure that they have no control over the vehicle. Since this virtually eliminates the occupant’s ability to control the vehicle if necessary, the best response is to avoid drinking in a self-driving vehicle at all.

Other Laws

Driving under the influence may be subject to disputes over what constitutes driving, but other statutes have no such requirements. Some states prohibit any alcohol in the passenger compartment of a vehicle regardless of whether the vehicle is in motion. Occupants can violate laws prohibiting open containers of alcohol by simply possessing alcohol in a vehicle. Laws prohibiting public intoxication are yet another concern.

Self-driving vehicles are rare and expensive; no one currently entrusted with a self-driving vehicle probably will be intoxicated while doing anything with the vehicle. As self-driving vehicles become more common, what constitutes driving or operation of a motor vehicle will need to be clarified.

Chris Bennett is an automotive enthusiast and legal researcher for the attorneys at A DUI charge is a serious issue and conviction will have a dramatic effect on your life. The North Carolina law firm of Powers McCartan is a partnership of professional associations dedicated to staying on the forefront of legal representation.

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  1. Julie

    January 7, 2013 at 5:07 pm

    Hi Chris, you bring up some good points. If the laws do not currently covers this area with the use of words of drive or operate, they probably will when the time comes.

  2. Thomas Williams

    March 15, 2013 at 7:30 am

    If the intoxicated has the ability to control the self-driving car to avoid an accident, then yes he should be charged with driving under the influence. However, if we are talking about the future where getting into accidents in self-driving cars is as rare as an airplane crash, then the charge will not makes sense. Besides, if car companies can make a viable self-driving car, then maybe they can create auto parts to detect when the driver is intoxicated.

  3. Peter

    April 2, 2013 at 4:04 am

    When I was talking to friend about DUI, after we successfully sold my BMW 320d (because of swirl flaps, nothing more), this same question came to my thoughts – is it possible to get a DUI in a self-driving vehicle? Of course, there would be different angles and different arguments, but I guess the law needs to establish that the intoxicated individual behind the wheel is the one controlling the vehicle. This might be challenging, but so far I have not seen or heard any cases yet. It would be very interesting to know the results of the investigation and the verdict.

  4. Anthony

    November 23, 2013 at 10:17 am

    Great point Chris! The law is really vague when it comes to this self driving vehicle because if indeed it is a self driving vehicle then the driver do not have control over the vehicle so most probably he will not be charged even he is drunk. As technology advances more or less car manufacturers will also add some features to this high end cars such as to sense if the driver is drunk or not.

  5. mark

    April 15, 2014 at 5:31 pm

    If there is any chance you can hurt someone while impaired in the vehicle I would say it will be illegal.
    they are really cracking down on this. Street congestion is exploding. You now have to look for other vehicles, skate boarders, bicyclists, and pedestrians that don’t care where they are at.

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