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Self-Driving Cars and DUI’s: Can Your Car Drive Drunk?

It appears that the technology governing self-driving, or automated, cars has reached a critical mass.  And more and more vehicle developers are announcing their intention to produce self-driving cars and heralding their future use.  Even the federal government, not usually known for being ahead of technology, has recently released its policy concerning self-driving cars via the Department of Transportation.  See https://www.transportation.gov/AV (last visited September 21, 2016).

In its substantial written policy, the Department of Transportation made note of many areas of development and concern for manufacturers of self-driving cars.  Amongst them are concerns for cybersecurity as well as the human-machine interface.  No sooner did the policy announcement occur when it was reported that hackers had taken control of a self-driving car from miles away.  See https://www.theguardian.com/technology/2016/sep/20/tesla-model-s-chinese-hack-remote-control-brakes?cmp=oth_b-aplnews_d-1 (last visited September 21, 2016).  Both cybersecurity, and concerns for the human interface of a vehicle that may ultimately rely upon its driver to take control in certain situations, creates profound concerns for the enforcement of DUI laws in this new automated era.

Under Indiana law, an individual “operates” a motor vehicle when they navigate or are “in actual physical control of a vehicle,” Indiana Code 9-13-2-117.5, and an “operator” is “an individual who operates a vehicle…”  Indiana Code 9-13-2-118.  The Indiana Court of Appeals has indicated previously that it was considered three (3) factors when determining if an individual operates a vehicle: (1) the location of the vehicle; (2) whether the vehicle was in movement; and (3) evidence that the defendant was observed operating the vehicle.  See Hampton v. State, 681 N.E.2d 250 (Ind. Ct. App. 1997).  None of these factors truly answer the question of whether a person riding in a self-driving car is operating that vehicle and, with “operation” being a question-of-fact to be determined by individual jurors, Custer v. State, 637 N.E.2d 187 (Ind. Ct. App. 1994), Hoosier juries may be required to answer this question sooner than they think.

Looking for an attorney on the cutting edge of DUI law and technology?  Contact us today if you have questions or believe your constitutional or criminal rights have been violated.  We stand ready to provide our clients with trusted representation and accurate information regarding the law and its application to their individualized case.  Act now and contact us today at 1-800-NOT-GUILTY or (317) 857-0160.