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Can I Get DUI if I Drive on Tesla’s Autopilot?

Tesla leads its competitors primarily because of its various technological advancements, such as Autopilot and “full-self driving” capabilities. With approximately 830,000 Teslas currently on the road, its four models (S, X, Y, and 3) account for more than 61% of the American electric vehicle (EV) market.[1]

Although such automated vehicle technologies could eventually make the roads safer, there have also been unintended consequences of their adoption; namely, it’s lent a false sense of confidence to some inebriated motorists who decide to treat their smart car as a defacto designated driver.

Naturally, this raises the question: can you get a DUI if the Tesla is on Autopilot?

Yes, and here’s why.

Tesla’s Autopilot Isn’t Autonomous

Autopilot is a standard feature on every new Tesla.

When used properly, this incredibly sophisticated software can enhance safety while reducing the driver’s workload. But even Tesla notes that its top-tier Autopilot package, Full Self-Driving Capability, was only intended “for use with a fully attentive driver, who has their hands on the wheel and is prepared to take over at any moment.”[2] 

Autopilot doesn’t make the vehicle fully autonomous. As is, it’s still fallible. In fact, in June of 2022, automakers reported that there were more than 273 crashes involving a Tesla where the driver was using Autopilot.[3]

Yes, You Will Receive a DUI If You Drive Your Tesla Under the Influence

In regards to motor laws, the fact that Teslas and other smart cars aren’t yet capable of being fully autonomous has legal bearing. It means that the driver is still the person responsible for their actions when behind the wheel. 

Although the laws may change as technology becomes even more advanced, currently, it’s illegal to operate a vehicle over the legal driving limit of .08 BAC, regardless of whether the car is on autopilot. 

For instance, in 2021, a Tesla—which was believed to have been on Autopilot—hit a wall on a freeway in Glendale while the driver was passed out in the driver’s seat. She was later arrested by authorities and charged with a DUI.[4]

Put simply, just as with any normal car, you’re legally obligated to be sober enough to drive your vehicle safely, auto-pilot features notwithstanding.

What Happens If You Receive a DUI in California?

Whether you were operating a Tesla Model 3 on Autopilot or a stick-shift Studebaker from the ‘50s, the law remains the same: If you’re caught driving under the influence of drugs or have a blood alcohol concentration (BAC) of .08%, you’ll likely be charged under Vehicle Code 23152 (a) and (b):[5]

  • Vehicle Code 23152(a) – Driving under the influence of alcohol.
  • Vehicle Code 23152(b) – Driving with a BAC of .08% or more.

Naturally, the level of charges and the resulting consequences depend on each individual case. Most first-time DUIs will result in a misdemeanor charge. Under California Penal Codes, this could result in the following penalties:[6]

  • 3 to 5 years probation
  • $400 to $1,000 in fines and penalty assessments
  • A 6-month driver’s license suspension
  • 3 to 9 months of DUI school
  • The installation of an ignition interlock device 
  • Potential jail time

That said, there are aggravating circumstances that can lead to felony charges, such as a BAC of .15+, reckless driving, child endangerment, or an accident that causes bodily injury or death.

I Was Charged with a DUI While Driving My Tesla, What Now?

If you have been charged with a DUI, do not admit fault. Instead, contact a DUI lawyer immediately. An experienced lawyer could review your case and push for your charges to be reduced via plea bargain or dismissed altogether.

Even if you have already “failed” a sobriety test, an experienced lawyer could review the arrest file and materials to ensure that everything was done by the books. There’s always the possibility that the officer failed to follow proper police conduct and procedures, lacked probable cause, or used a faulty breathalyzer.

And, if the facts of the case support it, the right DUI attorney could even push for a jury trial to fight the charges.

Fighting a Tesla Autopilot DUI

Just because a Tesla is capable of being mostly independent doesn’t automatically give you clearance to drive inebriated. And, in California, even riding a horse while under the influence could result in a DUI charge.[7]

Any time you get behind the wheel (or reins), you’re expected to be in control. That means staying below the legal BAC limit.

But what if you have already been charged for a DUI?

If you want a fair hearing and a better chance of a favorable outcome, you should hire a Los Angeles DUI attorney as soon as possible. Enlisting the legal counsel of a top DUI lawyer could mean the difference between significant charges and a slap on the wrist.

So, whether you have legal questions or need to hire a lawyer today, contact Artz and Sturm Law Group for a free, private, confidential consultation.

[1] Axios. Tesla Electric Vehicle EV Sales.

[2] Tesla. Autopilot and Full Self-Driving Capability.

[3] AP. US report: Nearly 400 Crashes of Automated Tech Vehicles.

[4] Business Insider. Watch police trail a Tesla whose driver was suspected of a DUI and passed out while the car was reportedly on Autopilot.

[5] California Legislative Information. Vehicle Codes: Rules of the Road.

[6] California Legislative Information. Sentencing for Driving While Under The Influence [23500 – 23675].

[7] OC Register. Riding Horseback While Drunk Can Bring a DUI.

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