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Self-driving cars have the potential to revolutionize the way we travel and impact many other aspects of our lives. An automaker that’s at the forefront of this technology is Tesla — with its Autopilot and Full Self-Driving (FSD) mode. While autonomous cars, ideally, can improve safety, some Tesla owners abuse this technology. This includes “driving” under the influence (DUI) of alcohol. With this in mind, can you get arrested and charged for a DUI if drunk while using Tesla Autopilot, FSD, or a self-driving car?

Tesla models are not completely autonomous — both practically and legally

Man sitting in Tesla, highlighting if you can get DUI if drunk in Tesla Autopilot, FSD, or self-driving car
Man behind the wheel of a Tesla | Kenny Eliason via Unsplash

A controversial element of Tesla Autopilot and Full Self-Driving mode is they are not truly autonomous — from both a practical and legal standpoint. As currently built, they require a driver to be awake, lucid, and attentive. Their hands should be on the wheel and be ready to take the controls. When properly used, this technology can enhance safety and provide a more convenient ride for drivers.

However, the autonomous aspects of Tesla Autopilot and the more advanced FSD is they give drivers a false sense of security. Many owners have used Autopilot and FSD while drunk, sleeping, or inattentive driving. Some make it home safely, such as a drunk Tesla owner in California this past Christmas, as detailed by Business Insider. On a Twitter Spaces chat, he boasted, “I admitted the other day, I was a little bit tipsy after Christmas. I was probably drunk. But with FSD, it drove me home, I mean, flawlessly.”

However, there are hundreds of reports of car crashes with Autopilot and FSD. A recent example is an intoxicated driver in Paradise, California. He crashed and totaled his Tesla earlier in December while using Autopilot, per Rum Raiders. It was a strange accident. The drunk driver veered off into an embankment, smashed through two fences, and then landed on top of a large rock. 

You can get arrested for a DUI if drunk in a self-driving car, including Tesla Autopilot and FSD

Red Tesla Model 3, highlighting if you can get DUI if drunk in Tesla Autopilot, FSD, or self-driving car
Tesla Model 3 | Tesla

Due to not yet being completely autonomous, the police can arrest and charge you for a DUI if drunk in a self-driving car. This includes using Tesla Autopilot and Full Self-Driving mode. Attorney Daniel D. Hajji and Artz & Sturm Law Group detailed the illegality of these actions. 

In the case of the Paradise, California driver that wrecked his Tesla while drunk, the police arrested him for a DUI. His blood alcohol level was 0.25% — which is more than three times the 0.08% legal limit in California. There was another incident in 2021 in Glendale, California. The female driver was drunk and passed-out with Tesla Autopilot activated. Her car then hit a wall on a highway. Like in the more recent case, she received a DUI.

Since Tesla and other cars with self-driving features are not yet capable of being fully autonomous, motor vehicle regulations treat them as any other vehicle. You are still responsible for your actions while behind the wheel. Whether driving a classic 1928 Ford Model A or a Tesla with Autopilot and FSD, the law is the same. If you’re over the legal blood alcohol limit for alcohol, you can get arrested for a DUI.

Future of autonomous vehicles and possible changes for laws

However, in the coming years, if self-driving cars advance to truly become fully autonomous, the laws may change too. In the future, people might be free to drink alcohol and do other debaucherous activities in autonomous vehicles — without landing in jail.