Man Blames DUI Charge On "Self-Driving" Car

A driver can activate Tesla's Autopilot much like cruise control. Natalya Okorokova/Shutterstock

A man arrested on DUI charges over the weekend for falling asleep at the wheel bucked the blame when he told authorities it wasn’t his fault because, well, his Tesla was driving.

And we thought we’d heard it all before.

Turns out driving drunk is still illegal even if your car is on autopilot. The man's blood alcohol content was nearly double the legal limit when authorities found him on San Francisco’s Bay Bridge.

The San Francisco Chronicle reported that "the man had apparently passed out in the stopped car while stuck in the flow of busy bridge traffic at 5:30pm, according to the California Highway Patrol." When police woke him up, he assured officers that everything was fine because the car was "on autopilot". 

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It appears drivers of semi-autonomous cars are overly confident in their vehicle's ability to "self-drive". The US National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) is investigating a crash involving a Tesla Inc. Model sedan that rear-ended a firetruck going 105 kilometers (65 miles) per hour in southern California earlier this week. The car “buried itself” under the rear of the truck and in doing so crumpled its hood to a third of the original size, folding it over the windshield.  

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Fortunately, in these cases, only egos were hurt. But that’s not always the case.

In 2016, a man was killed while using the semi-autonomous driving system on a 2015 Model S sedan. According to reports, the driver had set the speed at 16 kilometers (10 miles) over the posted speed limit and kept his hands off the wheel for extended periods of time, ignoring automated warnings not to do so.

In the final 37 minutes of his drive, he had his hand on the wheel for a total of just 25 seconds.

Neither the driver nor the vehicle were able to detect a truck cutting across the Florida highway in time to avoid it. It was the first fatal accident involving a partially autonomous car.

NTSB laid partial blame on the manufacturer, citing a need to educate consumers better.

When used properly, Tesla CEO Elon Musk says autopilot can help reduce accidents by as much as 50 percent. Emergency braking cuts rear-end crashes by as much as 38 percent.

The self-driving capability, which is made up of multiple sensors placed around the car, helps the vehicle steer itself safely on the highway up to 5 meters (16 feet) around the car in every direction. Not only can the car change lanes and control braking, it can also parallel park itself. 

Tesla said in a statement that autopilot is "intended for use only with a fully attentive driver," reminding drivers that they are “still responsible for, and ultimately in control of, the car.”

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