By on December 28, 2012

Sure, driverless cars might mean the end of individual freedom, automotive enthusiasm, and the American man as we know him today, but at least you can’t get busted for drunk driving when you let your robot car drive you home from the local watering home, right?


Writing in the New Scientist, legal expert Bryant Walker Smith suggests that it will be extremely possible to get a ticket for DUI in a self-driving automobile.

How do you ticket a robot? Who should pay? And can it play (or drive) by different rules of the road?… To what standard, then, should these vehicles be held? Must they perform as well as a perfect human driver for any conceivable manoeuvre? Or must they perform merely as well as an average human in a statistical sense? In any case, how should that performance be measured?

The first question Smith asks — how do you ticket a robot — is particularly interesting, because the current ticketing-industrial complex depends on aggressive ticketing to cover everything from municipal slush funds to red-light-camera firms’ stockholder dividends. A country filled with perfectly-behaved robot cars doing 54.5 miles per hour in a 55 and stopping right before the line at every traffic light will leave a lot of pockets empty. Something will have to be done, and that something will likely include paying some serious attention to what the occupants of driverless cars are doing. What if it turns out to be illegal to be “distracted” while one’s robot car is driving? If you want a vision of the future, imagine a thoroughly bored man staring out a robot car windshield — forever.

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43 Comments on “Can A Robot Car Get You Pinched For DUI?...”

  • avatar

    “ticketing-industrial complex” – That is The Truth About Cars.

    “A country filled with perfectly-behaved robot cars doing 54.5 miles per hour in a 55 and stopping right before the line at every traffic light will leave a lot of pockets empty.” – True.

    “What if it turns out to be illegal to be “distracted” while one’s robot car is driving?” – Distractions take many forms, so if the robot is driving, people will figure out pretty quickly what to do (“54.5 mph club”, etc.).

    • 0 avatar

      And that’s exactly why driverless cars will never happen.

      Most of these things we’ve expected to see by now from sci- fi films happen in COMMUNIST UTOPIAS I.e: Star Trek.

      When you live in a country with corporations that get rich IMPRISONING PEOPLE and state governments that rely on ticketing motorists, it’s obvious an automated car is a public threat.

      Imagine a self driving car that avoids No Standing tickets by driving to a place it can wait till you call it!

      Imagine being able to drink and have the car drive you home. Revenue goes up for the bar and DOWN for the State Pigs.

      It’ll NEVER HAPPEN.

      Or… It’ll happen the day after we get flying cars.

      • 0 avatar

        They’ve been seriously “happening” for 30+ years. That the tech and price equations are now where they want them is where we are now. Benz has been on this for nearly three decades. The DARPA challenge was what 6 years ago? Google’s cars have been operating for years, and are now legal in 3 states.

        This will go the way air bags, ABS, AWD, automated cruise, panic stop assist, and pretty much every other innovation of the last 40+ years.

        It will be a showcase option on a top-line car. More than likely an S-Class Benz. It will eventually become standard on the S and move down to optional on the E-Class. Shortly thereafter, it will be on a top-line Lexus product. Then work it’s way down to Avalon/Accord land over the next 20-ish years. (Unless of course Google stuffs the channel with Prii. Which is entirely possible.)

        By this point, the insurance companies will have the data to determine that even when computers screw the pooch, they’re better (read: far cheaper) than humans on average. Don’t worry, your rates won’t go down a bit.

        Somewhere in here, the long-term metro study areas will be yielding their results. Once the gubbermint validates that they can jam twice as many of us on the same road by simply letting the computers do the driving, the mandates will begin. Helped along, by lobbying from the newly more profitable insurance industry.

        The are no fantasies here. No tech that is beyond our capabilities or completely unaffordable. It’s already here, it’s already being proven, and it ain’t going away.

      • 0 avatar

        That just means that the US won’t be the leader. If the US can’t remove those hurdles than there are plenty of auto tech centers opening in China that will do the work. If Americans want to join in later they can pay royalties.

      • 0 avatar

        You are right and I am scared – and sad.

  • avatar

    I predict that this technology will stall/die because the legal issues will never be satisfactorily be resolved.

    • 0 avatar

      Really? when is the last time you flew on a commercial plane? Who was flying it? The computer or the pilot? If you dig into it, you’ll find that now Pilots are required to fly a certain number of flights manually just to keep their skills up, otherwise computers can do just about all of it if the crew programs the plane correctly.

      The advances in technology are such that many planes can land themselves now. So unless you’re up there with the pilot, who just landed your plane? A robot or the pilot?

      What’s the legal issues going to be like when the first automated landing screws up?

      • 0 avatar

        I don’t know when the tech went into everyday use, but planes have been able to land themselves for more than thirty years. I was aboard an FAA experimental 727 doing touch-and-go landings back in the Cretaceous period. So, the first automated-landing screw up has probably already happened. Probably the second too.

      • 0 avatar

        When a plane crashes and people die, everyone gets sued, the airline, plane builder, engine builder, sub-vendors, maintenance shops, everyone. The tort system for traffic accidents is usually simpler, the owner. There are rare exceptions, mfr or authority that owns the roadway, but those are extremely rare. When the robotics in a car screw up, is the owner of the vehicle still going to be on the hook legally? Tickets are a small issue by comparison, that can be answered legislatively.

        In the US at least, the vast majority of landings are still hand flown. Modern airliners, but almost no airports, are so equipped.

  • avatar

    For similar precedence, you can simply look at the correlation among the rise in average fuel economy and slowing rate of overall fuel consumption with the deterioration of our highway system vis a vis collected fuel taxes.

    Does safety, control, and efficiency trump OMG PROFITS!!!!! ?

    Look to how many municipalities have been accused of modifying signal timing in an effort to ‘game’ red light cameras and how many have accepted such cameras raking in profits for out-of-state and out-of-country corporations instead of combining 1) lengthening the duration of yellow signal/steady red signal for all directions and 2) posting additional patrol officers in their cruisers/bikes at troublesome intersections. What better deterrence is there than “that f-in’ bike cop AGAIN” towards curbing red light running?

    That tells you profit is indeed the true motive…

    • 0 avatar

      I asked my local police chief why his officers sat on the side street to a four way stop, that if they were really interested in keeping people from running those stop signs, they’d park in a visible place. He responded by saying “Then people would assume if there isn’t a visible cop, they can run the stop sign”.

      Ever notice how cops always have an excuse for anything they do?

      Not long ago, Detroit Lions player Ndamukong Suh got a ticket for failure to exercise due care and caution for the way he passed and merged with traffic when the right lane he was in was ending. In order to ticket him, the cop had to pull out from a side street, cross two traffic lanes to get to the left turn lane, which he used, racing his engine, to pass traffic, then crossed those two traffic lanes again in order to get behind Suh. The police chief reviewed the dashcam video and said there was nothing wrong with what the cop did. Of course the chief didn’t notice his employee lying to Suh about passing on the right being illegal in Michigan (on multilane roads it’s perfectly legal), or about him almost causing an accident (you can see him merge safely in the video, other drivers don’t even hit their brakes).

      Cops lie and abuse their authority. Public employees in general feel no need to treat their employers, the public, with anything approaching respect. Compare the worst bureaucratic experience in the private sector, let’s say waiting to see a doctor in the ER for a non-life threatening medical emergency, with going to the DMV. Put the down side of cops with the down side of public employees and you have a recipe for abusing people.

      • 0 avatar

        Ronnie, comparing your average public sector employee with cops is not really a fair comparison. Cops tend to get a power trip going, and some even get off on nailing people for BS issues. They also feel that the law they enforce does not apply to them. This would be the case whether the cop was a private or a public employee. It is much more a matter of how people deal with having power over others than who provides the check. Contrast that to a bored DMV employee who at worst is rude but does not have much ability to affect the customer’s life by causing high insurance rates or worse. I think we all have been exposed to rude and uncaring public sector employees. But so have we been treated equally as bad by obnoxious private employees as well. Customer service employees for utilities, credit card companies, banks, etc often have people that can rival the worst DMV employee. And for what it is worth, I have found most people in the DMV and the USPS to be friendly and professional.

  • avatar

    The ticketing industrial complex (pure profundity!) has already figured out how to ticket a robot. You simply ticket the owner as is done with camera ticketing machines (or municipal money trees, if you prefer).

  • avatar

    This has already been written into the laws authorizing the robo-cars, and frankly, current law is readily stretched to cover. There is no story here.

    I haven’t read the CA driverless authorization (SB 1298) through in a coupla months, but the language is really clear…

    The definition of “operator” is extended to mean one who engages driverless technology. Ergo, if you are plastered and engage the driverless car, you are the operator.

    Just like if you are found passed out drunk behind the wheel of your non-moving, non-running vehicle, you are still legally DWI/DUI, because you are in control of said vehicle.

    • 0 avatar

      So if an autonomous flex vehicle ends up with a fuel alcohol content > 0.15, will that mean that the vehicle is guilty of DUI?

      Better be careful where you let it fuel up, then. And if it keeps driving out of its way to fuel up at the same station, perhaps it will need to be rehabbed.

      Step One: I am powerless over ethanol; my driving has become unmanageable.

      But if a drunk person can’t engage an autonomous vehicle, being serious, why on earth not? It would seem to be a perfect designated driver.

      Assuming of course, you keep it’s ethanol content down. ;-)

  • avatar
    Kevin Jaeger

    The ticketing-industrial-complex already has a long term solution planned. They will force you to install a GPS tracking device and tax you for every mile you move.

  • avatar

    Robots are going to f*ck up a lot of people’s income. Pharmacists get $80 – $120K plus to do menial retail work because, god forbid, what if a guy with a GED accidentally took the wrong pill out of the big bottle and put them in the small one (like the pharmacists with doctoral degrees never do that). Robots are revolutionizing that industry:

    Android tablets can teach poor kids that unionized, summers off, defined benefits pension teachers cannot be paid enough to:

    Robotic racecars are threatening the author of this post:

    As robots continue to put people out of work the question will be whether people will have a utopia of less work and more leisure, or whether people will just resort to more and more parasitic hustles. The military industrial complex. The prison industrial complex. Jack’s aptly named redlight industrial complex. All you need is an fake enemy that the masses can get worked up about (weird people in foreign countries, brown people that use drugs, villanous redlight runners), corporations that can profit (defense contractors, for-profit prisons, ATS/RedFlex), and poor people desparate for work (soldiers, prison guards, ticket sending beurocrats).

    The wealth that automation is creating is similar to oil wealth. It creates a lot of wealth without creating many jobs (automation actually eliminates them). Some countries have handled oil wealth well, e.g. Norway, and some have handled it poorly, e.g. Equatorial Guinea. The question is whether the US will use automation to create a tranparent, highly educated socialist utopia (Norway) or a kleptocracy (Equatorial Guinea).

    Joi Ito, director of the MIT Media Lab, on who can embrace automation:

    “You have to pick people who are inclined to think big and to be risk-takers but also tend to be very collaborative and open. And they really have to be self-learners, self-motivated, and people who question authority and think for themselves. Because a lot of people want to be told what to do and like to feel like they’re being productive by doing repetitive tasks.”

  • avatar
    DC Bruce

    Of course the “driver” of the car is going to be cited for DUI. . . and the robotic car will, no doubt, include features that assess the driver’s competence and will probably shut down if it deems the driver to be impaired for any one of a variety of reasons.

    Currently, all robotic cars require the driver’s attention/participation as a back up to the robotic system. The interesting question raised by this technology is how to maintain driver attention when there is nothing for him to do. Already this is a problem with airline pilots, who, under most flying circumstances, are required to operate the aircraft on autopilot.

    Only if the robotic system is allowed to relieve the driver of responsibility for operating the vehicle, is this likely to change. And I don’t see that happening anytime soon. I think that would require interactively operating robotic vehicles, with no room for human drivers or human operation. This might work on high-speed freeways where you would have a virtual “train” of cars, which would accommodate cars entering and exiting the freeway, but otherwise would have them all traveling at the same speed.

  • avatar

    There are good signs that the financial pressure on cities will be reduced, that forces them to use scams like redlight cameras. San Diego achieved pension reform in November:

    And hopefully many cities will follow. Putting government employees on 401(k) style defined contribution pensions, instead of defined benefits pensions, is something that should have happened years ago.

    Stealing money from working class taxpayers to let government employees retire in their 40s is a hugely disgusting practice.

    • 0 avatar

      Around these parts, the only public sector employees that can retire in their 40’s would be -surprise- cops and firemen. Also the number one abusers of OT and work rules would are again cops and firemen. Generally speaking of course.

      There is nothing wrong with abandoning a defined pension plan if the annual salary is adjusted to reflect the fact that a pension is no longer part of the compensation. Unless salaries match that of the private sector you will end up with the worst of the worst as your workforce. You probably think that is the case already but that is not true. It will be once you ask people to work for 20 percent less.

      ….Stealing money from working class taxpayers to let government employees retire in their 40s is a hugely disgusting practice….

      Another disgusting practice? How about expecting your employees to travel for your company at night after working all day for you? Let’s make them front their own money for travel, and reimburse them after 5 weeks. While your at it, make them eat for $30 a day. Then you can push an across the board hike in health care benefits and fire a few engineers and replace them with temps. All while spending lavishly on yourself, all on the company dime. I lived this and wound up hating my employer to the point I would have turned my back on them if they were being beaten. I moved on, and they did not care because there was another foreign born engineer to exploit. Talk about disgusting. The usury was shameful.

  • avatar

    “how do you ticket a robot”

    The same way that you ticket a cruise control unit.

    I’m surprised that a lawyer went to the trouble of writing an article about this. Maybe he’s trying to win the Nobel Prize in the Obvious category.

  • avatar

    Paranoia and conspiracies.

    How do you ticket a robot car–exactly as you would ticket any other. Odds are, they won’t get ticketed.

    But what about all the money they miss out on? You forget, this is the govt, and they can/will get money however/wherever they want/need it. E.g., they can raise fees (registration/inspection/etc.) for automated cars.

  • avatar

    How do you carjack one of these?
    Will more occupants get shot by pissed-off thieves because it takes too long to transfer control?

    • 0 avatar

      KITT would “play dumb” (allow the carjacking), then seal the thief inside and drive directly to the nearest police department.

      I guess.

      • 0 avatar

        But thats a picture of “Katt”, Kitt’s evil original predecessor, who’s AI went AWOL, they thought he had been destroyed, but amazingly enough, after a prolonged period of time at the bottom of a west coast seaside cliff, an un-beknowing surfer dude stumbled accross him and became part of his plan for revenge, which michael and kitt thwarted, unleast untill one additional episode of thwarting was required.

        what would KATT have done?

  • avatar

    At some point (10 years? 50 years?) political pressure will mount to allow non-licensed drivers to travel alone: children, elderly, quadraplegic, etc. Revenue will probably be raised by an expensive annual inspection, sort of like a state safety & emissions inspection on steroids, fully testing the autonomous capabilities of the car. Say it takes a state licensed inspector four or eight hours to test and certify the car for autonomous/driverless use. $1000 per annual test wouldn’t be out of line for such testing, making up lost revenues.

    • 0 avatar
      Chicago Dude

      Do you mean to tell us that you think it is a bad idea for vehicles that are fully autonomous to be inspected to ensure they are working properly, even after years and many thousands of miles of use?

      Government isn’t 100% bad.

    • 0 avatar

      If automation is smart enough to drive it will be smart enough to monitor and report vehicle condition.

      Maybe people will have to go to a facility to check for hacking, but that will be an automated facility.

  • avatar

    The dirty secret about traffic enforcement, *including alcohol related offenses*, is that municipalities, counties and states indeed want people to break the law in order to generate revenue. If given two options, one that genuinely improves traffic safety, or one that results in more infractions and more revenue, politicians and public employees will make safety secondary to revenue.

    He’ll never admit it but your local police chief really wants people to drive drunk.

    Hell, that was the entire purpose of the MADD inspired reduction of the legal limit in most states from 0.10% BAC to 0.08% BAC and the institution of sobriety check lanes, so they had a reason to arrest and prosecute those who weren’t actually impaired.

    Of course those police officers and their police chiefs know they’ll get professional courtesy if they get nabbed for DUI. They’ll get a drive home, not an arrest record. Just about the only time cops (on duty and off duty) get ticketed for traffic violations is when they cause accidents and/or injuries that can’t be covered up.

    • 0 avatar

      That is so painfully true. Almost everyone lit up for being impaired (not just at an unConstitutional checkpoint)not to mention that is actually in an accident, is 90+% .020 or higher. The old limit of .010 was ridiculous enough, but the .008 thing is just a naked revenue grab.

  • avatar

    Here in Ontario, .005 first offence? Your walking for three days,and they call your insurance company. 008 in road side spot check? Kiddie porn dealers are treated better.

    Roughly about a 50K touch. I paid 75 bucks for a cab the other day….peanuts. The Lawyer will charge you that to say “good morning”

    • 0 avatar

      Sounds like I’d like Ontario.

      Amazing how many here are tolerant of drunk drivers. To me it’s like sending a schiz into a shopping mall with a loaded gun. The logic in this thread would argue that the gun isn’t *really* loaded if it only has a couple of rounds in it. Making anything less than a full clip illegal represents pure revenue grab.

      • 0 avatar

        Not tolerant of drunk drivers, but intolerant of moving the definition of “drunk” way into the territory of “had a few drinks”. Scientifically, most are just as fully functional at driving as prior to those few drinks.

        The science is really straightforward, people who are impaired enough to be in accidents are 90%+ found to be at .020. In fact, generally well in excess of that number. .005 or .008? Anyone can pass an FST (field sobriety test) at that number, and all but the lightest of lightweights can drive with no penalty to their performance at all.

        The real motives will become clear after you get a $300+ ticket for texting or even talking on the phone behind the wheel. That’s already happening, btw. Not to mention eating and driving, or even sipping a Diet Coke (that’s next on the propaganda “distracted driving” list).

        Sure, just like .008, there’s some idiot somewhere who can’t drive unless there’s a complete silence and they’ve just taken a handful of Adderall. But the rest of us can drive just fine while talking on the phone, eating, texting, talking to the passenger, all after having a couple of cocktails with dinner.

        I know the trend has been to subject the vast majority to needless regulation because a few idiots do something abberant. Doesn’t mean that it’s a good one.

      • 0 avatar

        porschespeed, you keep screwing up the blood alcohol numbers:

        In my area, the limit is 0.08%, which is also 0.0008; it is not “.008”

        It’s hard to believe any of your “scientific” points when you don’t see that error.

        As for myself, I am perfectly fine with setting the limit at 0.00%. Instead of wasting time defining how much is okay–just don’t do it.

      • 0 avatar

        redav, So, as long as it’s in the numbers that you are familiar with seeing in print, it’s all ok. Got it.

        There’s a bunch of ‘standard metrics’ when it comes to speaking about BAC. Were you to be aware of that, you wouldn’t have wasted the electrons making your post. Please, dig up an old Driver’s Guide, or crack a history book. Or go to the Wiki thing – even it will lay it out for you. Not long ago, and to this day by certain medical conventions, my numbers are quite relevant.

        Back in the 70s and 80s, the DWI limit was captioned as “.010”. So, “.008”, or what is now called “.08” was quite legal. All of 30 years ago when I passed the written, “.010” was legally DWI in almost every State in the Union. (Some were higher.)

        This is all part of the Madison-Avenue-proven way of recasting a number to make it sound bigger than it really is. That you seem to be falling for that MADD propaganda does not change either history or science.

  • avatar
    slow kills

    I’m almost positive that Michael would let KITT drive after he’d been drugged or beaten or otherwise rendered unable to drive. Apparently the Foundation for Law and government had different rules.

  • avatar

    Thanks to autonomous cars, in the future one can read a newspaper, watch a movie, eat breakfast or take a nap while they reach their destination. We have that now. Its called public transportation!

    • 0 avatar

      Only once time in my life did I ever have access to a public transportation system which would take me to my destination. That particlar bus route stopped running before I got off work (at the perfectly ordinary hour of 5PM), so it was only useful in the morning. I had to walk well over a mile for the bus trip home.

      • 0 avatar

        When I used the bus, I had to catch transfers which added over an hour to my workday. To make it worse, when gas prices retreated from their first foray above $4, the bus raised their rates, which made it more expensive to take the bus as well as less convenient.

  • avatar

    “Do you mean to tell us that you think it is a bad idea for vehicles that are fully autonomous to be inspected to ensure they are working properly, even after years and many thousands of miles of use?”

    No. I expect the automotive equivalent of the Federal Aviation Administration will be created to regulate autonomous road vehicles. That entity will probably license independent vehicle inspection stations, much like the FAA licenses aircraft overhaul and maintenance facilities. In any case, local, state, and federal governments will get their cut of licensing and inspection fees.

  • avatar

    This is a no brainier. The efficiencies gained in a productive mobile workforce will rule the day. Our concept of a work vehicle will migrate to a mobile office (or living room for that matter). It does beg the question on occupant safety though if we are all in recliners watching the big screen and jamming down the interstate at 70.

    • 0 avatar
      el scotto

      Uh, no. There’s still “X” number of people who have to go to their place of work. Public transportation is still the most efficient way to transport large amounts of people to work. The Pentagon is an excellent example of this. Subway, local buses, commuter buses, and people picking up hitchhikers (slugs) to get in the HOV lanes show how mass transportation works. Besides where are all these robot cars gonna park?

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