At first glance, the subject of self-driving cars appear to be a topic that is so far ahead of our time and that it should be ignored until it becomes an issue. However, presently in the city of San Francisco a major tech company is working on a so called “driverless project”. The demo vehicle is said to have no steering, no brake pedal, and a stop button. This driverless project has the goal of placing self-driving cars on the market by the year 2020. Presently, such self-driving vehicles are being tested on the roads of San Francisco. So, as you can see the reality of vehicles that can chauffer a passenger is not too far on the horizon.
So, who would want to ride in a self-driving vehicle? These vehicles, at least initially, are planned to be marketed to those who are handicapped or otherwise impaired and thus unable to safely operate a motor vehicle unassisted. For instance, elderly, the blind, and children – just to name a few- are categories of potential riders. The thought, at least for these riders, is that they will have a higher level of independence and a new ability to handle their own errands. None of the above mentioned categories of people is expected to be able to operate a motor vehicle with the same level of care as a person without such limitation.
So, keeping in mind that self-driving vehicles are designed with individuals with physical limitations and/or impairments that prevent them from otherwise operating a motor vehicle to the same standard as those without such limitations, what of the operator/rider of the self-driving vehicle whose only impairment is due to consuming an intoxicating substance? Will this individual be held to the same standard as an individual whose impairment is due to a physical or mental defect that does not involve the consumption of drugs or alcohol???
In previous blogs we have addressed the issue of circumstantial evidence being used to arrest a person for DUI. As you may recall, no officer saw the person driving the vehicle but because the person was in the driver’s seat and the engine was running, for instance, an officer was allowed to make an arrest for a DUI. So what will happen if an officer stops an intoxicated rider is a self-driving car? Will the officer make a DUI arrest because he/she believes the intoxicated person does not have the ability operate a self-driving car? Or conversely, will the law treat the self-driving vehicle like a ride share service as the safer alternative to driving while intoxicated?
In closing, I have no answers to the above questions. Today’s blog entry is intended to create questions in your mind regarding the changing landscape of transportation and the potential legal challenges that we may soon face. Stay tuned to next week’s blog when we discuss the fallacy of standard field sobriety tests.