A few weeks ago, a California man passed out drunk in his Tesla Model S while attempting to drive across the San Francisco Bay Bridge. According to the report by SFGate, the man fell asleep in bumper to bumper traffic whereupon other motorists on the road called law enforcement for help.
Then, the California Highway Patrol (CHP) arrived to evaluate the situation and determine what was going on. To avoid appearing guilty, the driver attempted to explain that the autopilot feature was to blame. However, the officer arrested the driver and charged him with suspicion of driving under the influence (DUI), and towed his car. It was subsequently revealed that the man had a BAC level that was more than twice the legal limit.
Tesla did not confirm that the driver had actually engaged in autopilot system, although it has in the past used driver date in accident investigations. The system is designed to get a driver's attention if it encounters and detects a challenging situation and forces the car to a stop if a driver does not respond. In recent years, Tesla rolled out an update whereby drivers have to touch the steering wheel at least once every two minutes for the autopilot feature to remain on.
What Happens in the Future?
The incident above invites us to ask questions about driver responsibility in the dawn of autonomous vehicles. In the future, will it be legal to get in our cars while intoxicated, and let them take us home?
Possibly—but for now, you will be charged with a DUI if you allow your autonomous vehicle to drive you. Tesla's autopilot system is not considered fully autonomous. The company has made it clear that drivers still need to pay attention to their surroundings when using the autopilot feature.