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Autonomous Cars Conjure Changes to Drunk Driving Laws

The reality of self-driving and autonomous vehicles has arrived. As more of them continue to hit the roads and highways of the U.S., many driving laws will need to change.

While most people use a number of names interchangeably, most self-driving cars must be turned on by the owner and will operate in self-driving mode only in certain circumstances. Fully autonomous cars should operate like driverless taxis.

DUI, DWI and robot cars

Drunk driving laws do not let a driver "operate" a vehicle while intoxicated. Just how autonomous does a vehicle need to be to allow a drunk individual to turn it on so it can drive him or her home? While the answers may seem obvious to the layperson, drafting the laws that regulate where the line is drawn can be very tricky.

Unanswered questions

The ever-evolving development of self-driving and autonomous vehicles raises other important issues as well, including:

  • How will an owner of a self-driving vehicle prove that it was in self-driving mode when an accident occurs?
  • Will passengers be allowed to have open containers of alcohol while riding in a self-driving car? How about the "driver"?
  • If there is no driver, who will ensure that passengers buckle-up? Currently, drivers are responsible for seatbelt use by passengers.
  • While autonomous cars are programed to stay at the scene of accidents, how will others who are involved obtain insurance and ownership identification from the vehicles?
  • Will the technology be advanced enough to follow directions from law enforcement, such as directing drivers around an accident or obstacle on the road?

For the time being, the Trump administration is choosing to keep its distance from regulating autonomous car manufacturers for fear of stifling innovation. The recently released "Automated Driving Systems 2.0" guidance document is strictly voluntary and does not require compliance nor enforcement of its provisions.

Until some of these questions are answered and laws are put in place, victims of accidents with robot cars may have difficulty proving who is responsible for their medical bills.

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