Can You Get a DWI in a Self-Driving Car?

March 21, 2024


In an era where technology seems to leap bounds faster than we can keep up, the advent of self-driving cars has presented many legal, ethical, and safety considerations, particularly when it comes to drinking and driving. The question at the forefront of this technological revolution is: Can you get a DWI while in a self-driving car? The short answer is yes, and here’s why.

Despite the futuristic allure of autonomous vehicles, current legislation in New York State, like the rest of the United States, maintains that the responsibility of the car lies with the human behind the wheel, regardless of the level of automation. This means that even in a self-driving car, if you are deemed to be in control of the vehicle, you can be charged with DWI.

Understanding Levels of Automated Driving

It’s crucial to understand the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA)’s classification of automated driving levels:

  • Level 0: No automation. The driver controls the vehicle at all times.
  • Level 1-2: These levels include features like Adaptive Cruise Control and Lane Assist, requiring the driver’s engagement.
  • Level 3: Conditional automation allows the car to drive under certain conditions, but driver intervention may still be needed.
  • Levels 4-5: Represent high to full automation. While these levels suggest minimal human intervention, current technologies, and legal standards still necessitate a human driver’s potential control.

In New York State, as with most jurisdictions, the absence of fully autonomous vehicles (Levels 4-5) on the roads means that the individual in the driver’s seat is legally considered the operator, necessitating adherence to all DWI laws.

This distinction is critical because, in the eyes of the law, the presence of automation does not absolve the ‘driver’ of responsibility. You are considered in control of the vehicle if you have the potential to operate it, irrespective of whether the car is driving itself at the time.

The Legal Landscape in New York

In New York, the concept of ‘actual physical control’ determines whether an individual can be charged with DWI. This means that even if you are not actively driving the car but are in a position to do so, you could face DWI charges. Factors such as your location in the vehicle, the position of the keys, and whether the engine is running are all considered when determining ‘physical control.’

Interestingly, New York’s stringent DWI laws mean that you could be charged even if you are in a stationary vehicle and do not intend to drive. For instance, being found intoxicated in the driver’s seat of a parked car, with the keys in the ignition, could lead to DWI charges.

The Future of Self-Driving Cars and DWI Laws

As autonomous vehicles evolve and become more prevalent, we may see changes in legislation that address their unique challenges. However, the legal principle remains until laws are adapted to account for the nuances of self-driving technology. If you can control the vehicle, you are responsible for it.

The Role of The DWI Team

At The DWI Team, we recognize the complexities that modern technology brings to traditional legal frameworks. Our team is at the forefront of navigating these evolving legal landscapes, offering expert guidance and robust defense for those facing DWI charges, whether in traditional vehicles or the future autonomous cars.

Suppose you find yourself entangled in a DWI situation, irrespective of the type of vehicle. In that case, it’s imperative to seek professional legal assistance. Our experienced attorneys are dedicated to upholding your rights and achieving the best possible outcome for your case.


As we navigate the ever-changing terrain of technology and law, The DWI Team remains your steadfast ally, committed to delivering exceptional legal support in DWI defense across New York State. For more insights and legal assistance, reach out to us—your shield in the complex world of DWI law.

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