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Drinking and Self-Driving Cars

As the technologies in self-driving cars reach maturity it seems almost inevitable that there will come a time when actively driving a car will feel optional. For some it will be tempting to think of a self-driving car like a taxi. But thus far, the safety record of self-driving cars has left open doubts about how much drivers can rely on them without keeping an eye on what’s going on around the car. An important issue related to this is whether it will be safe to operate a self-driving car after drinking enough alcohol to be over the legal limit. The legal framework for self-driving cars is still in its infancy. Given the enormous complexity of a self-driving car’s technologies, lawmakers probably will be slow to allow fully autonomous vehicles to hit the roads. Nevertheless, many states, including Nevada, have adopted preliminary rules that provide guidance for driver-operators and the manufacturers of self-driving vehicles. There are two key reasons why “drunk operating” is not a legal option:
  1. There is no exception for drunk driving and driverless cars. Being behind the wheel of a self-driving car is still driving, even though the operator isn’t touching any controls and may even be ignoring the roadway. Although in theory operating a self-driving car may be a safer alternative to driving drunk, it is still not legal. Operating a self-driving car while drunk is a crime and can lead to accidents and injury liability.
  2. Safety mechanisms rely on an alert driver. Under existing law, a self-driving vehicle in Nevada must include a safety system that will turn control of the vehicle over to the operator in the event that the car’s systems cease to function as expected. This means that the operator always needs to be ready to take control. Many of the accidents involving self-driving cars have featured situations where the driver was not paying attention to the road. A driver who is reading a book or sleeping can’t do anything in the event that the car’s sensors fail to detect a pedestrian. A drunk operator’s reaction times will be even slower than those fo a sober operator.
The fact that an operator of a self-driving vehicle was drunk at the time of an accident will be a major factor in any ensuing litigation brought by someone who was injured in the accident. The operator may attempt to lay the blame on inadequacies in the car’s design, and perhaps the plaintiff will want to pursue action there as well. But the operator is still responsible for causing the accident, even if he or she wasn’t actively controlling the car at the time. If you or a loved one is injured in an accident involving a self-driving car, do not let the fact that the car was autonomous distract you from the human operator’s responsibility for the car. Accidents where the self-driving car is at fault will present new and interesting questions for lawyers to resolve. For over four decades the attorneys at Greenman Goldberg Raby Martinez have helped clients seek compensation for injuries caused by car accidents. For a free attorney consultation about your case call us today at 702-388-4476 or send us a request on our contact page.