Man Arrested for DUI for Falling Asleep while Tesla in Autopilot Mode

Thursday, December 6th, 2018

Last week, California Highway Patrol arrested a driver for DUI after he had fallen asleep in his Model S Tesla while it drove down Highway 101 in autopilot mode.

A CHP officer spotted a grey Tesla going about 70 miles per hour on Highway 101 near Redwood City. As the officer approached the vehicle, he also noticed that it appeared the driver of the Tesla was asleep behind the wheel. CHP then closed traffic on the highway and proceeded to slow the Tesla by pulling a patrol vehicle in front of it and slowing down, thus causing the Tesla to slow down.

The driver of the vehicle eventually awoke to the CHP stopping his vehicle. Once stopped, responding officers suspected that the driver was under the influence and had the driver perform field sobriety tests, which he allegedly failed.

“It’s great that we have this technology; however, we need to remind people that…even though this technology is available, they need to make sure they know they are responsible for maintaining control of the vehicle,” CHP spokesman Art Montiel said.

In January of this year, CHP arrested a driver who was found passed out behind the wheel of a Tesla on San Francisco’s Bay Bridge. According to CHP, the driver’s blood alcohol content was more that double the legal limit. The man claimed he wasn’t responsible because the vehicle was in autopilot.

While fully autonomous vehicles may be in the offing, no major car manufacturer has yet to develop a fully autonomous vehicle for public consumption. In fact, Tesla warns that its autopilot features are not fully autonomous. “Autopilot is intended for use only with a fully attentive driver,” a Tesla spokes person told the Washington Post earlier this year. Rather, auto pilot systems are designed to detect obstructions in the road and, if necessary, bring the vehicle to a halt if the driver does not respond in time.

In fact, a goal of Elon Musk is to have fully autonomous vehicles in the near future.

“We aimed for a very simple, clean design, because in the future – really, the future begins now – the cars will be increasingly autonomous,” Musk said in July of last year. “So, you won’t really need to look at an instrument panel all that often. You’ll be able to do whatever you want: You’ll be able to watch a movie, talk to friends, go to sleep.”

This, however, raises an interesting legal dilemma.

California law requires that a drunk driver be in physical control of the vehicle and must cause the vehicle to move in the slightest amount. Are drunk drivers who are in autopilot really in physical control of the vehicle and cause it to move if the car is in autopilot? At least right now, the answer is a likely yes.

Drivers still need to operate a vehicle in autopilot to a certain degree. As Tesla’s spokesperson pointed out, Tesla’s autopilot feature still requires a fully attentive vehicle to take control of the vehicle to engage in maneuvers that are not available in autopilot. Just because a vehicle has autopilot mode does not mean that it is autonomous.

The question will become even trickier when fully autonomous vehicles are introduced to the public. If a vehicle is fully autonomous, then there is no need for a driver to be in any kind of control of the vehicle. On the other hand, a driver (now a passenger of a fully autonomous vehicle) will still need to input coordinates and tell the vehicle where to go, which can raise the argument that the passenger is, in fact, in control of the vehicle.

You can see how this technology can raise interesting legal questions. I suppose we’ll just have to 1.) wait for fully autonomous vehicles, and 2.) see what the legislature and/or courts do to define what it means to be “in control” of a fully autonomous vehicle.

Until then, drinking and getting behind the wheel of a vehicle while in autopilot mode will still land you a DUI in California.

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Arrested for a DUI by Robocop

Friday, September 14th, 2018

Could it be that sometime in the future drunk drivers can be arrested by robotic law enforcement? If you’re anything like me, a product of the 80’s, you might be envisioning something like the Terminator, or Robocop. While we may be closer to automated law enforcement than some might think, it’s not as cool as what my imagination envisions.

Motorola has patented an autonomous car that may actually replace law enforcement in the fight against drunk driving.

Called the “Mobile law enforcement communication system and method,” the vehicle as described in Patent 10049419 is a “communication system, comprising: a self-driving vehicle within which to detain a detainee by law enforcement” that has the ability to make an arrest of a drunk driver, reads the drunk driver their Miranda Rights, determines who the driver’s attorney is, calls the driver’s attorney, communicates with a court regarding bail, and allows the drunk driver to swipe a credit card to post that bail.

Don’t believe me? See Patent 10049419 for yourself.

According to the developers, a self-driving vehicle will respond to a DUI stop where “the detained or arrested individual is placed into the self-driving vehicle for initial processing. Depending on the type of incident or alleged infraction, the individual may or may not remain handcuffed within the vehicle, but is detained within at least a portion of the vehicle throughout the process, such as a backseat area. [P]redetermined law enforcement processes and proceedings take place…using the autonomous vehicle’s communication system.

“Depending on the severity of the incident or alleged infraction, the processes and proceedings taking place within the self-driving vehicle may take the form of one or more of testing, booking, arraignment, and even full adjudication, if applicable. For example, the mobile communication system can be used as a mobile test hub for determining alcohol levels, drugs, and/or weapons. Sensors and scanners plugged in within the self-driving vehicle provide preliminary in-vehicle screening tools to help law enforcement officers assess a driver suspected of being drunk, carrying a dangerous or weapon, and predetermined drugs. As air sensors and scanners continue to evolve, the detained individual may simply remain within the vehicle while the tests are processed, analyzed, and results communicated to one or more appropriate recipients. Depending on the status of the detainee’s confinement, results may be communicated, over one or more wireless communications networks, to law enforcement, a remote attorney, and/or an on-call judge which may be contacted by the communication as part of the mobile processes and proceedings.”

Should this ever come to fruition in my lifetime, I’m not sure how I feel about it considering I still use a pin-on-the-wall calendar to keep track of my upcoming events rather than my smartphone. I can say, however, that it may be better than the subjective and often bias determinations made by the human law enforcement officers we deal with today.

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Stopping as a Sobriety Checkpoint

Friday, June 8th, 2018

Memorial Day just past and summer is around the corner. Summer months mean beach trips, vacations, barbeques, 4th of July, and this year, my personal favorite, the World Cup. Where there is fun to be had, law enforcement expects drunk and impaired driving. Many of the summer activities I just mentioned do, often, involve indulging in the alcoholic beverage, possibly even a little of the Mary Jane now that’s it’s legal here in California. One of law enforcement’s favorite weapons in their battle against impaired driving is the sobriety checkpoint.

The 4th Amendment of the United States Constitution requires that officers have probable cause and a warrant before they can seize and/or search a person. Well, what is a checkpoint? It is certainly a seizure since the police are stopping people on the roads when they would otherwise be free to drive without interruption. It may be also a search if the law enforcement has drivers take a breathalyzer. So how can law enforcement do this without having a warrant?

In the 1987 case of Ingersoll v. Palmer, the California Supreme Court set forth guidelines to ensure the constitutionality of checkpoints in California. Those guidelines are as follows:

  1. The decision to conduct checkpoint must be at the supervisory level.
  2. There must be limits on the discretion of field officers.
  3. Checkpoints must be maintained safely for both the officers and the motorists.
  4. Checkpoints must be set up at reasonable locations such that the effectiveness of the checkpoint is optimized.
  5. The time at which a checkpoint is set up should also optimize the effectiveness of the checkpoint.
  6. The checkpoint must show indicia of official nature of the roadblock.
  7. Motorists must only be stopped for a reasonable amount of time which is only long enough to briefly question the motorist and look for signs of intoxication.
  8. Lastly, the Court in the Ingersoll decision was strongly in favor of the belief that there should be advance publicity of the checkpoint. To meet this requirement law enforcement usually make the checkpoints highly visible with signs and lights.

 

Three years later in the case of Michigan Department of State Police v. Sitz, the United States Supreme Court held that the state’s interest in preventing drunk driving was a “substantial government interest.” It further held that this government interest outweighed motorists’ interests against unreasonable searches and seizures when considering the brevity and nature of the stop. In doing so, the court held that sobriety checkpoints were constitutional even though officers were technically violating the 4th Amendment.

Now that we’ve determined that sobriety checkpoints are constitutional, I would be remiss if I did not tell you what your rights and obligations are, as the driver, should you happen to find yourself stopped at a sobriety checkpoint.

Based on the last of the Ingersoll v. Palmer requirements, checkpoints must be highly visible. As a result, drivers are often aware of the checkpoint before they drive up to it. Believe it or not, drivers are allowed to turn around so as to avoid the checkpoint. They, however, must do so without breaking any traffic laws such as making an illegal U-turn.

If you do not turn away, but rather pull up to the checkpoint, the officer might first ask you some questions such as: Where are you coming from? Where are you going? Have you had anything to drink?

The 5th Amendment to the Constitution gives you the right not to say anything to law enforcement ever. And don’t! Invoke your right to remain silent by telling the officer, “I would like invoke my 5th Amendment right and respectfully decline to answer any of your questions.” Now keep you mouth shut until given the opportunity to call your attorney.

Surely this is not going to sit well with the officer. They may, at that point, have the driver exit the car and request that they perform field sobriety tests. Drivers should absolutely decline to perform the field sobriety tests. They are an inaccurate indicator of intoxication, but fortunately they are optional. I and many other people would have trouble doing them sober.

At this point, the officer is likely fuming, but who cares? You are exercising your constitutional rights.

As a last-ditch effort, they may request that you take a roadside breathalyzer commonly referred to as a “PAS” (preliminary alcohol screening) test. Under California’s implied consent rule, as a driver, you must submit to a chemical test after you have been arrested on suspicion of a DUI. The key word is “after.” Therefore, when you happen upon a checkpoint and the officer requests that you to take the PAS test, you can legally refuse. If, however, the officer has arrested you on suspicion of DUI you must submit to either a blood test or a breath test.

This summer season be on the lookout for sobriety checkpoints. But should you find yourself about to drive through a checkpoint with no way to legally turn around, know your rights and use them. That’s what they’re there for.

 

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Drunk Driving on St. Patrick’s Day

Thursday, March 15th, 2018

It’s that time of year again when the green beer flows like wine, corned beef and cabbage are consumed for breakfast, lunch, and dinner, and failing to wear something green can lead to unwanted pinches. Yup, I’m talking about St. Patrick’s Day. While most Americans celebrate Irish heritage on March 17th, the day actually commemorates the arrival of Christianity in Ireland as well as marks the death of the holiday’s namesake, Saint Patrick, the patron saint of Ireland.

Synonymous with the holiday is the consumption of copious amounts of alcohol, be it the green beer mentioned above, an Irish coffee (coffee with Irish whiskey and Irish cream), an “Irish Car-Bomb” (dropping a shot of ½ Irish whiskey and ½ shot of Irish cream into a ¾ pint of Guinness), or just a good-old frosty pint of the Irish dry stout, Guinness.

Needless to say, law enforcement is well aware that people will be drinking excessively, especially since St. Patrick’s Day falls on a Saturday this year. Consequently, they will be out in full-force to nab drunk drivers from the streets. Expect saturation patrols and DUI checkpoints in high traffic areas.

“Don’t let a day of celebration turn into a day of tragedy. If you drive impaired, you risk your life and the lives of others on the road,” California Highway Patrol Commissioner Warren Stanley said in a statement. “Plan ahead before the party begins by designating a sober driver or making arrangements for a taxi or ride-hailing service.”

According to CHP, last year saw three people killed and 66 people injured in DUI-related collisions in California on St. Patrick’s Day. What’s more, CHP arrested 148 people on suspicion of driving under the influence. 

Don’t count on Irish luck to get you out of a DUI should you hop behind the wheel after having one too many green beers. There are somethings that you can do to make sure that stay out of jail on St. Patrick’s Day.

Appoint a designated driver. It’s not enough, however, to merely appoint the DD. You need make sure that they remain sober. Being a designated driver means actually remaining sober, not just drinking less that their passengers. There have been several instances this past year where designated drivers have been arrested on suspicion of driving under the influence.

If neither you nor your friends are willing to be a designated driver, consider public transportation. This includes taxi cabs and busses as well as ride-sharing apps like Uber and Lyft. Be aware, however, that getting a cab, Uber, or Lyft might be as difficult as finding a four-leafed clover since St. Patrick’s Day is one of the busiest days of the year for cab, Uber, and Lyft drivers.

Lastly, as unappealing as it might be, the only surefire way to avoid a DUI is to not drink if you plan to drive this St. Patrick’s Day.

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Drunk Drivers Say Personal Breathalyzers Helped them Prevent Driving Drunk Again

Friday, December 1st, 2017

This past August, the Colorado Department of Transportation gave 475 personal smartphone breathalyzers to people who had been convicted of a DUI. In addition to the obvious objective of preventing drunk driving, the Colorado Department of Transportation also wanted to see if, in fact, having the breathalyzer actually helped keep them from driving drunk again.

After recently surveying those people who were given breathalyzers, the Colorado Department of Transportation’s results showed that having a personal breathalyzer helped those people avoid driving drunk. In fact, a whopping 90 percent said that having a breathalyzer helped them avoid driving drunk and 94 percent said that they would recommend a personal breathalyzer to others who regularly drink alcohol.

The Colorado Department of Transportation teamed up with BACtrack, who created the smartphone breathalyzer, during the informal study. The breathalyzer is linked to a smartphone app through Bluetooth. If the user determines that they cannot legally drive, the smartphone app can order them a taxi or Uber.

I’ve written a few times on the benefits of purchasing a personal breathalyzer.

Like those handed out by the Colorado Department of Transportation, people can buy breathalyzers that can either be attached directly to a smartphone or connect to smartphone through Bluetooth and will run buyers between $100 and $150.  

Other, less expensive, breathalyzers can come on keychains and can cost buyers as low as $15. Like many things, quality comes with price and the results of these novelty breathalyzers are questionable at best and decrease in accuracy after time.  

Some breathalyzers are handheld and resemble those commonly associated with the breathalyzers used by law enforcement. Those breathalyzers range widely in terms of price and quality. Some come as low as $50 and some can go as high as a few hundred dollars. Obviously, the less expensive handheld breathalyzers have lower quality, but those more expensive handheld breathalyzers are the ones used by law enforcement because of their accuracy and may even be approved by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA). Law enforcement grade breathalyzers have an accuracy range of plus or minus 0.002 percent which means that if a person is a 0.08 percent, the breathalyzer results can range between 0.078 percent and 0.082 percent.

I purchased my own personal handheld breathalyzer to experience first-hand what I’ve been writing about. I didn’t break the bank, but I did spend $60 on the lower end of the legitimate handheld breathalyzers. After having a few drinks, I gave it a go. While I don’t know what my actual blood alcohol content was because different readings were provided, I can say that the multiple readings ranged by about 0.03 percent. In other words, using that range, a person could register between a 0.095 percent and 0.65 percent, or between a 0.18 percent and 0.12 percent, or between 0.26 and 0.23 percent. After a few months of use, the breathalyzer stopped working and I need to send it to the manufacturer.

While on the face of it, it might seem as though this range is too large to help drivers know whether they are okay to drive because if a person is actually at a 0.08 percent, the breathalyzer reading can show results as high as 0.095 percent and as low as 0.065 percent. Having said that, if a person knows that a breathalyzer is less than accurate and shows a blood alcohol content of 0.065 percent, they may know that they might actually be at a 0.08 percent and abstain from driving. And bear in mind that this is one of the less accurate handheld breathalyzers.

At a minimum, having a personal breathalyzer might help people bridge the gap between how a person perceives what their intoxication level is and what their blood alcohol content is. And while many breathalyzers might not provide an accurate reading, it might still prevent people from driving merely knowing that they are close to the limit. And knowing a range is certainly better than knowing nothing and making a stupid guess.

 

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