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Is ‘Autopilot’ a Defense to a Drunk Driving Charge?

Technology may be breaking barriers, but that doesn't mean drivers should be breaking laws. A San Francisco Bay Area driver, charged with driving under the influence after being found asleep behind the wheel on the Bay Bridge last week, apparently claimed that his Tesla was on autopilot when confronted by the California Highway Patrol. That might be a new one, but it wasn't a successful one. As the C.H.P. noted on Twitter afterward, "no it didn't drive itself to the tow yard." The Drunk Part Really Hurts His Drunk Driving Defense When telling it to the judge, context matters. According to the C.H.P., the suspect was two-times above California's Blood Alcohol Concentration (BAC) limit at the time. That's not close, just like Oakland and San Francisco really aren't that close when trying to sneak your car home after a night out either. And that's wandering into the range for an Aggravated DUI for that matter, though we haven't seen the exact test results yet. Let's Put "Autopilot" in Quotes Here Tesla has yet to confirm if the autopilot feature was used here, but it likely won't matter. According to Fortune, 'Tesla's autopilot is not fully autonomous driving' as the 'autopilot system is [merely] designed to get a driver's attention if it detects a challenging situation.' Which can be a nice feature to have, but isn't quite at a 'drive me home, Tesla' level of technology yet. It should still count as 'driving' under California DUI law as well. Autonomous Driving and the Law Someday there will be a case asking what constitutes "driving" when a truly self-driving car is involved in a DUI. California is shaping up to be a likely test state for answering that question. But until then, a better defense might be a good attorney.Related Resources: Find DUI/DWI Lawyers Near You (FindLaw's Lawyer Directory) Does Autopilot Absolve One Who Drives Drunk or Has an Accident? (ABA Journal) Can You Get a DUI in a Self-Driving Car? (FindLaw's Blotter) DUI Law (FindLaw's Learn About the Law)
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How to Sleep It Off in Your Car Without Getting a DUI

No one wants to get a DUI. But sometimes we don't realize how intoxicated we are until sitting down behind the wheel. If you have that moment of clarity, can you just pull over and try and sleep it off? Or can you get charged with DUI, even if you weren't driving at the time? Take Extra Precautions for the Best Chance at Avoiding a DUI Even though you tried to do the right thing and not drive, you may have to take a few extra steps to make sure you hopefully don't get arrested. For the best chance at avoiding a DUI, make it clear that you're actually sleeping, and not taking a driving break.For example, don't sleep in the driver's seat; instead, move to the back seats or at least the passenger seat. Also, don't have your keys on your person. If you place the keys in the trunk, you may be in a better position to convince a police officer that you had no intention of driving. Out of Luck in Some States Unfortunately, "drinking and parking" may simply be illegal. While state DUI laws can vary, most states allow for DUI convictions so long as you are "in control of the vehicle." So the "D" in DUI stands for either "Driving" or "could possibly Drive." Courts have upheld DUI convictions for drivers asleep at the wheel with the car running, asleep across the front seat with their head near the passenger door, and asleep in the front seat with their keys in their pocket. How Do Courts Determine If You Have Been Driving? Whether you can be charged with DUI for trying to sleep it off will depend on the DUI laws in your state, but most courts look at a set of factors when trying to determine if you've been driving your car: The location of your vehicle (whether you're on or off the road) Your location (where in your vehicle you're sleeping) The location of the keys in your vehicle (whether they're in or out of the ignition) The operability of your vehicle (whether your vehicle could be driven) Obviously, the best option is not to get behind the wheel after drinking in the first place. And while it's commendable that you've decided driving while drunk is a bad idea, you may want to take extra precautions (like calling a friend or a cab) to make sure your good intentions aren't met with a DUI conviction. If your effort to sleep it off didn't work, or you otherwise have been charged with a DUI, you should contact an experienced DUI attorney near you.Editor's Note: This article has been updated on 7/14/15 to clarify the precautions that should be taken to avoid a DUI. Related Resources: Browse DUI / DWI Lawyers by Location (FindLaw Directory) Sleeping Man in Elf Suit Arrested for DWI (FindLaw Blotter) Not All DUI Arrests Are Legal: 5 Notable Cases (FindLaw Blotter) State-by-State DUI Penalties (FindLaw)
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Top 10 Tips for Distracted Driving Awareness Month

The National Safety Council has designated April as Distracted Driving Awareness Month. According to the Council, thousands of people die each year in crashes caused by cell phone use while driving. But phone calls and text messages aren't the only distractions drivers should try to avoid while behind the wheel. Here are 10 tips and facts to keep in mind for Distracted Driving Awareness Month: New teen drivers are distracted more easily. Drivers between the ages of 15 to 20 make up only 6.4 percent of drivers on the road, but account for 11.4 percent of traffic fatalities. So parents, please teach your kids responsible driving habits. Every distracted second counts. Keep in mind that if you're looking down at your cell phone for only 4 seconds while driving, you could be driving the entire length of a football field without looking at the road. Eating while driving can be considered distracting. Although Distracted Driving Awareness Month focuses more on cell phone use, eating while driving can get you pulled over if cops think your snack time is taking your attention off the road. Cell phone records can be used in court. Think you can keep your cell phone use while driving a secret? Think again. Text-message and call records from cell-phone companies can be used in court to prove that you were distracted when the accident occurred. Texting and driving can lead to child endangerment charges. A California mom was arrested when she was caught texting and driving while she had her 1-year-old baby in her lap without any child restraints. Distracted driving can lead to public shaming. A local project in San Francisco called "TWIT Spotting" encourages bystanders to snap pictures of distracted drivers and turn them in. The photos are then posted on the "TWIT Spotting" website or placed on billboards in an effort to publicly shame the driver for his dangerous behavior. Texting crash videos will make you think twice. While they may be hard to watch, texting crash videos serve as a somber reminder of what can happen when you take your attention away from the road, even for a split second. Hands-free cell phone use can still be distracting. Although hands-free cell phone use while driving is generally legal in many places, it can still be a distraction for drivers who get wrapped up in their conversations and forget about the road. Use an app to curb your bad habits. There are smartphone apps out there that automatically shut off your messaging apps and temporarily stop incoming calls and text messages when you're driving. You could land in some deep doo-doo. Finally, there's a lesson to be learned from the driver who was texting while driving a rented convertible when he crashed into a truck hauling liquid manure. So don't be a doo-doo head and steer clear of all distractions while you're driving. Although Distracted Driving Awareness Month only lasts until the end of April, you should hang up all bad habits that lead to distracted driving year-round. To learn more about distracted driving laws and potential consequences, check out FindLaw's article on Distracted Driving. Related Resources: Cell Phone Crash Data (National Safety Council) Texting and Driving: 3 Ways to Prove It (FindLaw's Blotter) Texting a Driver May Make You Liable: N.J. Court (FindLaw's Injured) Driver's Google Glass Ticket Dismissed; Judge Sees No Proof (FindLaw's Legally Weird)
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3 Ways Truck Crashes Can Differ From Car Crashes

Any motor vehicle accident can lead to property damage or injury, but are there many potnetial ways in which a truck crash can differ from an "ordinary" car crash. From special insurance coverage to commercial truck laws, there are actually several factors that can make truck accidents unique. Here are three common differences between commercial truck accidents and standard car accidents: Commercial truck laws. A variety of laws impose special rules and restrictions on commercial truck drivers and trucking companies. When you're involved in a truck accident, those special commercial truck laws may come into play, such as how many hours the driver was behind the wheel, whether the driver was on a cell phone, whether the truck was properly maintained, and whether the truck was hauling hazardous material. Vicarious liability. Unlike ordinary car accidents involving individual drivers like yourself, truck accidents present a host of potential vicarious liability issues, including whether the truck driver was an employee or a contractor, whether the driver was acting in the scope of his or her employment during the accident, and whether the driver was engaging in a detour or frolic. More parties (and more lawyers) involved. When you're involved in a "regular" car accident, your lawsuit is typically limited to the other driver and his or her insurance company. But in truck accidents, you may have vicarious liability issues on the table, so you're potentially looking at many more parties involved in the case than an ordinary car accident case. Even if you can't find fault with the driver, there might be others who could be held liable, such as the truck company (for example, for negligent hiring, training, or retention) or a truck parts manufacturer (for a defective part that caused the accident). Because of these various parties, there could be many attorneys involved, representing the trucking company, the company's driver, equipment manufacturers, and others. These are just a few common ways that truck crashes can differ from car crashes. If you're ready to meet with an attorney who knows the ins and outs of truck accident cases, then head over to FindLaw's Truck Accident Lawyer Directory to connect with one today. Related Resources: Five Things to Research Before Meeting a Truck Accident Attorney (FindLaw) Proving Fault in a Truck Accident Checklist (FindLaw) Truck Accident Damages: How Much Can You Collect? (FindLaw's Injured) Truck Accident Injuries Up 18%: NHTSA Report (FindLaw's Injured)
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1 in 4 Car Crashes Involves Cell Phone Use: Report

More than one in four car crashes involves cell phone use, according to a new report by the National Safety Council. Perhaps even more surprising, only 5 percent of cell phone-related crashes involve texting, while 21 percent involve drivers talking on handheld or hands-free cell phones, according to the report. The findings serve as a grim reminder than talking on a cell phone while behind the wheel -- even on a hands-free device -- can be incredibly dangerous. Distracted Driving Is Underreported, NSC Believes In 2012, 3,328 people were killed and 421,000 were injured in crashes involving a distracted driver. According to the National Safety Council's report, 26 percent of crashes involved cell phone use. It is believed cell phone use (even hands-free use) contributes to so many car accidents because drivers get wrapped up in their conversations and stop paying attention to the road -- the exact definition of distracted driving. As far as crash data collection goes, nearly all states include at least one category for distraction on police crash report forms, although the specific data collected varies. The Model Minimum Uniform Crash Criteria guideline provides best practices on distraction data collection, according to the Governors Highway Safety Association. Nevertheless, the NSC believes the data on distracted crashes is underreported, WCBS-TV reports. If so, that means cell phones could be involved in far more car accidents than most people realize. Distracted Driving Laws Here is a breakdown of state laws on distracted driving, as provided by the GHSA: Hand-held cell phone use. Twelve states and Washington, D.C., prohibit drivers from using hand-held cell phones while driving. These are "primary enforcement" laws, meaning an officer can cite a driver for using a hand-held cell phone without any other traffic offense taking place. All cell phone use. No state has a complete ban on all cell phone use while driving, but 37 states and the District of Columbia ban all cell phone use by novice drivers (for good reason); in addition, 20 states and D.C. prohibit cell phone use by school bus drivers. Text messaging. Currently, 42 states and Washington, D.C., prohibit text messaging for all drivers. Another five states prohibit text messaging by novice drivers and three states restrict school bus drivers from texting as well. So if you find yourself receiving text messages while behind the wheel, do everyone a favor and pull over to the side of the road to catch up, gossip, and figure out dinner plans. Otherwise your next call may be to an experienced car accident lawyer near you. Related Resources: Distracted Driving Awareness Month: Cell phone use increases accidents (Nebraska City News Press) Texting and Driving? There's an App to Stop That (FindLaw's Injured) What's More Dangerous Than Texting and Driving? (FindLaw's Injured) Driver Tweets '2 Drunk 2 Care,' Then Kills 2 (FindLaw's Blotter)
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