Recently, a group of friends posted a Tik Tok video in which, apparently intoxicated, they headed down the highway at 65 mph. They were singing an old Justin Bieber tune and drinking what appeared to be alcohol from open containers. The driver’s seat was completely empty.
That’s because they were riding in a Tesla Model S and using the “Autopilot” feature. The Autopilot feature is a semi-autonomous driving assistant, however, not an actual autopilot. According to Tesla, owners should never rely on their Autopilot system to drive. A responsible, sober driver must be in the driver’s seat, ready to take over should trouble arise.
Unfortunately, trouble does arise on a somewhat regular basis. For example, in 2018, a driver took his hands off the wheel and eyes off the road, relying on his Autopilot feature. He did not notice when the Model S veered off course. The car crashed into a concrete barrier at over 70 mph, killing the driver.
There have been other instances of Tesla’s Autopilot failing to remain in its lane or failing to notice obstacles — including people — in the roadway. In fact, the National Transportation Safety Board called upon Tesla and other auto makers to limit their self-driving features until the technology improves. Tesla hasn’t responded to that call, although it apparently improved the warning feature that tells drivers they have taken their eyes off the road.
That warning wasn’t enough to deter the group of friends in the Tik Tok video. Moreover, the fact that the driver’s seat wasn’t even occupied was not enough to stop the car from operating.
Driving your Tesla drunk is not only dangerous, it’s illegal
Tesla’s Autopilot is not a fully autonomous driving system. Whatever the name suggests, it was not meant to dispense with a sober driver. Relying on it while you’re drunk could be a deadly mistake.
It also won’t prevent you from getting a DUI. Although semi-autonomous driving assistants are new, their manufacturers have made clear that they are not meant to replace an active, engaged driver who is vigilantly monitoring the feature’s performance. That means that courts are almost certain to hold that driving one while intoxicated constitutes a DUI.
If the Tik Tok friends end up arrested, however, it will be interesting to see who gets charged with drunk driving, since the driver’s seat was empty. It’s a good bet they all could be charged.
So, don’t rely on your Autopilot or any semi-autonomous driving assistant to drive for you when you’re impaired. If you are arrested for DUI, however, do get legal help from an experienced defense attorney.