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By Loren Korkin

With the progression of automobile technology, amazing new features are incorporated into new models of cars each year.  For instance, Tesla coined the term “Autopilot” to describe its semi-autonomous driving technology in its Model S, Model X, and Model 3 vehicles.[1]  Other vehicle manufacturers, like BMW, Mercedes-Benz, and Infiniti have been developing comparable autopilot technologies of their own.[2]

Every young driver is lectured continuously on the dangers (and illegality) of driving drunk. Drivers who are able to afford vehicles endowed with autopilot technology have gotten creative in attempting to get around drunk driving laws.  For example, one man was found passed out in a drunken stupor in his Tesla, which was found stopped in the middle of the San Francisco Bay Bridge.[3]  The man’s blood alcohol level was twice the legal limit, and he was arrested for DUI.[4]  In his defense, the driver stated that he was not driving his car because it was on autopilot.[5]

In the State of Florida, a person is guilty of driving under the influence when he is under the influence of alcoholic beverages to the extent that his normal faculties are impaired and has a blood-alcohol level of at least 0.08.[6]  A key aspect of Florida’s DUI statute, however, is the following caveat:  a driver meeting the aforementioned intoxication levels is guilty of DUI if the person is “driving or in actual physical control of a vehicle within this state.”[7]

The way in which the law is currently written in Florida would render escaping liability for a DUI in a self-driving car highly unlikely.  Florida courts would likely find a driver “in actual physical control” of his vehicle, even with autopilot engaged, given the technology’s relative infancy.  There have already been instances of Tesla drivers involved in fatal accidents where the drivers failed to override the autopilot system to avoid the impending collisions.[8]  Those drivers, when purchasing those autopilot-equipped vehicles, agree to contract terms that require them to keep hands on the steering wheel at all times, even when operating the autopilot.[9]  This is because the technology has not yet reached the point where human intervention is unnecessary.

It is an interesting development to follow, especially as autopilot technology in automobiles continues improving and undergoing more strenuous testing.  Once the technology becomes foolproof to the point where automobile manufacturers are willing to assume the risk of liability, legislators should take a hard look at this issue.  Perhaps, somewhere in the near future, our own cars will serve as trustworthy designated drivers, and every member of a group out on the town can enjoy some alcoholic beverages without concern.


[1] Autopilot, Tesla,

[2] Don Sherman, Semi-Autonomous Cars Compared! Tesla Model S vs. BMW 750i, Infiniti Q50S, and Mercedes-Benz S65 AMG, Car and Driver (Feb. 2016),

[3] Debra Cassens Weiss, Does Autopilot Absolve Someone Who Drives Drunk or Has an Accident?, ABA Journal (Jan. 23, 2018),

[4] Id.

[5] Id.

[6] Fla. Stat. § 316.193(1)(a-c) (2017).

[7] Fla. Stat. § 316.193(1) (2017).

[8] Omri Ben-Shahar, Should Carmakers Be Liable When a Self-Driving Car Crashes?, Forbes (Sept. 22, 2016),

[9] Id.