Can Drivers of Autonomous Cars Still get a DWI?
In Texas, a person is legally intoxicated when they have a blood alcohol concentration of .08%. While most people know that driving while under the influence of drugs or alcohol is illegal, many are unaware of the fact that a police officer may accuse them of DWI even if they were not driving or behind the wheel altogether. For instance, an intoxicated person may sleep or take a nap, have a brief phone call or grab a jacket in their car and, essentially, get caught in the wrong place at the wrong time. A police officer who has reasonable suspicion to believe a person is intoxicated and operating a motor vehicle may arrest and charge a suspect for DWI.
In court, prosecutors will work to establish three elements of DWI beyond a reasonable doubt:
- The defendant had a BAC of .08% or higher
- The defendant was in a public place
- The defendant was operating a motor vehicle
However, Texas statutes do not define “operating” in the context of a DWI. This ambiguity leaves it up to juries to decide the meaning. Generally, though, the term “operating” is interpreted as causing a vehicle to function in a manner that enables it to be used. This interpretation is arguably broad, nonetheless. As a result, prosecutors can manage to convict a defendant of DWI if they successfully prove that such defendant was operating a motor vehicle — whether or not they were driving — while intoxicated.
But what if a person was accused of DWI in a self-driving car?
While many people expected that 2020 would be the year of self-driving cars, we’re not there yet. According to US News, however, cars that are almost self-driving include:
- 2020 Tesla Model S
- 2020 Cadillac CT6
- 2020 Nissan Rogue
- 2020 BMW X7
- 2020 Infiniti QX50
- 2020 Volvo XC60
- 2020 Mercedes-Benz S-Class
- 2021 Toyota RAV4
- 2021 Subaru Outback
Texas’ DWI laws may eventually define and prohibit DWIs in self-driving vehicles specifically, but since they don’t exist on the market yet, the law plainly prohibits intoxicated drivers from operating a vehicle. DWI statutes may remain the same despite the anticipated future of self-driving cars. With this in mind, drivers of almost autonomous vehicles are subject to the same laws as drivers of regular motor vehicles.
To further understand why Texas’ DWI laws still apply to drivers of almost self-operating vehicles, let’s look at the definition of “motor vehicle.” Texas statutes define “motor vehicle” as a device in, on, or by which a person or property is or may be transported or drawn on a highway, except a device used exclusively on stationary rails or tracks. Thus, an autonomous vehicle still counts as a motor vehicle.
I Got a DWI Charge. Now What?
A nationally-recognized DWI defense attorney who obtains extensive training in Standardized Field Sobriety Testing and blood alcohol and breath science can maximize your chances of getting a favorable plea deal involving reduced charges, or even achieving a case dismissal altogether. As such, our Galveston DWI defense lawyers are equipped with the competence, skills and experience needed to help you overcome your charges and move forward with your life.
To speak with an experienced attorney about your situation, please contact us at (409) 204-5566!