Can You Get a DUI In A Self-Driving Car?

The future is not that far away and self-driving or autonomous cars may one day be the norm. Tesla has already created a self-driving car. Recently in California, a driver was cited for a DUI when he was arrested in his Tesla self-driving car.

What Does ‘Operating’ in Operating While Intoxicated Mean?

The answer to this question hinges on the definition ‘operating’ in operating while intoxicated. To be convicted of OWI you must be operating the vehicle. The word ‘operating’ is defined as driving or actual physical control of a vehicle.

We all know what driving means. The definition of the phrase ‘actual physical control’ is more broad than just driving and is a question of fact.

In a jury trial, it is up to the jury to decide whether a person was operating a vehicle.

What Do The Courts Say?

The Court of Appeals has defined ‘actual physical control’ in a broad way.

Look at the case of Plymouth v. Longeway. In this case, a person was found to be in actual physical control of a vehicle when the car engine was on, the car’s gear was shifted from park to reverse to park again, even though the car did not actually move. We know then that a Court will say that a person can be operating a vehicle even if the vehicle is not moving or has not moved.

Would a Person in a Self-Driving Car Be Operating that Car?

With the way the Court of Appeals has defined actual physical control, it should be expected that a higher-level Court will find a person in a self-driving car to be operating. Although self-driving, these cars probably have some sort of override function for manual use (your trusted author has not ridden in a Tesla).

Let’s say we reach a point where self-driving cars are the norm. We can expect the legislature to pass a law applying OWI laws specifically to self-driving cars. Just wait until we get to self-flying cars.

Only one question remains. If your self-driving car can’t chauffeur you home from the bar after a night of drinks, then what is the usefulness of a self-driving car?

Contact Us

Call Sam Bernstein at 734-883-9584 or e-mail at

Sam Bernstein is a DUI and Criminal Defense lawyer in Ann Arbor and Ypsilanti.

ArborYpsi Law is located at 4158 Washtenaw Ave., Ann Arbor, MI 48108.

Read More

  • Fighting OWI Cases
  • Steps In An OWI Case
  • OWI Driver’s License Penalties
  • What To Do When Pulled Over For OWI
  • What Does ‘Operating’ in Operating While Intoxicated Mean?

Call 734-883-9584 for an Ypsilanti DUI Lawyer

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