Drunk Driving & Self-Driving Cars

by Julian McLendon

The future of American 5G wireless networks was in the news again recently, which set me to thinking about all of the potential use cases for an expansive 5G network. One of those is self-driving cars, which are poised to revolutionize huge parts of our economy and the way we live our lives.

An important way that self-driving cars will change our lives, hopefully, is that they will drastically reduce the number of people who drive under the influence of drugs or alcohol. Indeed, there is at least one case of someone who has already tried to rely on their assisted driving system in order to drive under the influence. Now, clearly, the technology is nowhere near reliable enough without an attentive and sober driver, but that won’t always be the case. Legislatures should start thinking now about how they want to handle the future of self-driving cars and intoxicated “drivers,” who are really no more than passengers along for the ride.

Before anything else, Congress must resolve two issues related to self-driving cars and DUIs.

First, Congress needs to determine at what level of automation they would consider applying a DUI exemption. This question of levels of automation is something that Congress is already addressing while they work on the SELF DRIVE Act. Once they determine how they want to classify the automation of automobiles, then they can move forward with determining if they want to exempt those vehicles from DUI laws. Obviously, only vehicles that are fully automated should be considered for DUI exemptions.

Another issue that must be considered is the possibility of an intoxicated driver taking over for the automated system in the middle of their ride. To combat this problem, Congress may want to require a certification program for car manufacturers confirming that their cars are eligible for the DUI exemption. Such a program could ensure that there is a special mode of operation, which disallows any human control once the car is in motion, when there are no sober passengers. The use of such a mode could also be a prerequisite for any drunk driver pulled over, if they want to avoid being charged with a DUI.

Thankfully, both the United States and Australia are already considering how the rise of automation should affect the legal landscape. If we want to fully reap the benefits that automated driving can bring to society, the law should encourage people to feel comfortable allowing their cars to take care of them when they cannot take care of themselves. Providing DUI exemptions for fully automated cars furthers that goal and will greatly increase the benefits of 5G going into the future.

*Disclaimer: The Colorado Technology Law Journal Blog contains the personal opinions of its authors and hosts, and do not necessarily reflect the official position of CTLJ.