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DUI Driver's Excuse: Tesla Was ‘On Autopilot’

Updated on: 2/17/2020

One San Francisco drunk driver got creative with his excuse after police found him passed out in his stopped car.

When the man was awoken after stopping in busy bridge traffic. California Highway Patrol questioned the man, who told officers that his Tesla was “on autopilot.” According to the Highway Patrol, the man had a blood alcohol level of “at least twice” the legal limit. He was arrested and charged with suspicion of a DUI after being reported by drivers who saw him stopped in traffic.

Tesla Enhanced Autopilot is an advanced driver-assistance system for lane centering, adaptive cruise control, self-parking, and summoning the car to and from a garage or parking spot. What it’s not designed for is passing out behind the wheel and being escorted to your destination safely.

“When [you] pass out behind the wheel on the Bay Bridge with more than [two times the] legal alcohol BAC limit and are found by a CHP motor,” police tweeted. “Driver explained Tesla had been set on Autopilot. He was arrested and charged with suspicion of DUI. Car towed (no it didn’t drive itself to the tow yard).”

A Tesla spokesperson confirmed to and the San Francisco Chronicle that “autopilot is intended for use only with a fully attentive driver.” Tesla can check the car’s data to see whether it was using autopilot before the crash. That data has not been released.

In a separate accident, a Tesla driver crashed into the back of a fire engine in Culver City, Calif. The driver, who police believe was distracted, also used the excuse that his Tesla autopilot caused the accident.

The Potential Danger Of Vehicle Autopilot Systems 

The autopilot safety features on the Tesla, as well as competing systems like Cadillac's Super Cruise, do not act as replacements for drivers. As of early 2018, there are no cars on the market that have fully driverless technology available. Systems such as Tesla autopilot simply act as driver assistance products – they are designed to be used with an attentive driver behind the wheel.

Autopilot systems in the Tesla and others require that the driver keep their hands on the wheel. If those warnings are ignored, the car will be brought to a gradual stop. When considering how the safety features work, it’s possible that the autopilot systems in the Tesla actually prevented serious injury or death in the above incidents.

Tesla landed in hot water in 2016 when its Model S vehicle was involved in a fatal crash. The car was set on autopilot and neither the vehicle nor the driver recognized that a semi-truck had turned onto the highway. 

In its report, the National Transportation Safety Board cited the driver’s over-reliance on the Tesla autopilot. The driver had set the speed at 10 mph over the posted speed limit, and in the final 37 minutes of his drive, he had his hands on the wheel for just 25 seconds. The driver also ignored seven dashboard warnings and six audible warnings.

“We aimed for a very simple, clean design, because in the future — really, the future being now — the cars will be increasingly autonomous,” Tesla co-founder and CEO Elon Musk told the Washington Post. “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.”

Tesla’s autopilot system did prevent a wreck in Seattle three years ago. A driver in an oncoming lane turned directly in front of the Tesla. A video shows how the advanced system detected the vehicle instantaneously and slammed on the brakes. 

Contact A Washington State Personal Injury Lawyer

If you or a loved one has been hurt in a car accident involving a self-driving or semi-autonomous vehicle, you may be able to recover damages. These accidents can be extremely serious, resulting large medical bills, extended absences from work, rehabilitation, as well as pain and suffering.

Contact the Seattle injury attorneys at Davis Law Group, P.S., for a free case evaluation to discuss your case. Call (206) 727-4000, use the chat feature below or fill out the form on this page to get started. 

Chris Davis
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Chris Davis is the founder of Davis Law Group, P.S. in Seattle, WA.
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