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Self-driving cars and the unique problem they create for DUI laws

The discussion regarding self-driving cars has taken a shift in the last few years. No longer are people asking if they will become a reality. Now people are wondering when they will become a reality. This is thanks in part to the push from Google to develop and test the first self-driving car on actual streets, which is a technological achievement some of our Leesburg readers may be quite excited about.

The reason for excited anticipation of the self-driving car is the fact that it is already being hailed as the answer to drunk driving as it offers people under the influence of alcohol a sober ride home. Some believe that it would do away with drunk-driving offenses altogether in a matter of a few decades. But if we look at how our laws are currently worded here in Virginia, we’d like to ask if this would really be the case.

According to Va. Code § 18.2-266, any person shall be accused of a drunk-driving offense if they are found to be in operation of a motor vehicle while under the influence of drugs or alcohol or a combination of both. This means that if you exert physical control over the vehicle, as Va. Code § 46.2-100 states, then you could be accused of driving while intoxicated. The question then becomes, does pressing the start button on a self-driving constitute exerting physical control over a vehicle?

This is where self-driving cars present a unique problem to Virginia drivers because our drunk-driving laws were drafted well before this technology was available. Because of the wording of our laws and the use of the words “any motor vehicle,” even operating a self-driving car could lead to a DUI if law makers do not make a conscious effort in the years to come to amend our laws.

If changes aren’t made to our laws, then residents across Virginia could face steep criminal penalties for trying to do the right thing by using a self-driving car as a sober ride. These could become complex cases indeed, which means it will become even more imperative for those accused of driving while intoxicated to have a skilled and experienced criminal defense attorney at their side.

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