But Officer I Wasn’t Driving, My Tesla Was, and It Hadn’t Been Drinking.

While we have not quite reached the flying self driving vehicles promised by the Jetsons, the self driving function of Tesla and other new vehicles promises to change the way we get around for good. As with many areas of the law, as these technologies advance and become more common place, so to must the law and policing of the new technologies.

Just last week, California Highway Patrol spotted a Tesla Model S traveling down Highway 101 at 70 miles per hour. The police noticed that the driver appeared to be asleep, and only after they were able to bring his vehicle to a stop, by slowing down in front of his vehicle, were they able to wake the apparently intoxicated man by banging on his window. The man was subsequently arrested and charged with driving under the influence of alcohol.

Tesla attempts to avoid the potential liability of those types of situations, or any other self driving incidents/accidents, by telling its customers that they are ultimately responsible for driving the vehicle and any resultant accidents. But it is not hard to see how this type of technology invites its drivers to sit back, relax, and rely on the technology while they undertake any number of non-driving related activity. Tesla attempts to counteract those inclinations with various sensors and alarms, but users report that these are easily defeated by drivers’s, raising questions about what duty manufacturers like Tesla have to other drivers on the road.

As technology continues to improve, and self driving systems become more ubiquitous, the law will have no choice but to change as well, both in the criminal and civil arena. Likewise, insurance coverages will have to change to address the new technology as well. While I have not yet had a case involving a self driving vehicle, I have a suspicion that it wont be long before I do.

Wishing you and your families a safe and happy holiday season. And if you see a Tesla speeding down the highway late at night, maybe give them a wide berth until we get this self driving thing figured out.

 - Chris M. Short is an associate at Kiefer & Kiefer.  

This is provided for informational purposes only and not for the purpose of providing legal advice.

Megan Kiefer