Drinking alcohol is nothing new to Americans. According to America’s Health Ratings’ analysis of CDC data from 2020, 17.6% of adults in America reported heavy drinking or binge drinking on at least one occasion in the past 30 days. The report also highlighted the healthiest states for excessive drinking (Utah and West Virginia with 12.1%), and the least healthy state, Wisconsin, with 24.4%.
When it comes to drinking and driving, 32% of fatal car accidents in Wisconsin in 2019 involved alcohol.
Automated Vehicles in Wisconsin
So, what are some solutions to the issue of drunk driving in Wisconsin? One idea is autonomous vehicles. Some people, especially those working in the alcohol industry, see autonomous vehicles as a way to revolutionize the way we drink and travel. From this perspective it does seem to be a profit-driven idea, with alcohol companies hoping that Americans will consume more if they don’t need to drive home. But would this be legal?
While fully autonomous vehicles are not available to the masses yet, it won’t be long before they are. As of now most autonomous vehicles are at level 1 or 2, meaning that while they assist with and automate certain features, a driver is still in control of the vehicle. These levels have been determined by the NHTSA and Society of Automotive Engineers to designate the level of automation a car possesses.
- Level 0: System provides momentary driving assistance, like warnings and alerts, or emergency safety interventions while the driver remains fully engaged and attentive.
- Level 1: System provides continuous assistance with either acceleration/braking OR steering, while driver remains fully engaged and attentive
- Level 2: System provides continuous assistance with both acceleration/braking AND steering, while the driver remains fully engaged and attentive.
- Level 3: System actively performs driving tasks while driver remains available to take over.
- Level 4: System is fully responsible for driving tasks within limited service areas while occupants act only as passengers and do not need to be engaged.
- Level 5: System is fully responsible for driving tasks while occupants act only as passengers and do not need to be engaged.
Drinking & Self-Driving Laws
In Wisconsin, the law for automated vehicles is as follows: anyone operating a vehicle must be behind the wheel and in physical control of it at all times. This means that as of now, drivers in Wisconsin are responsible for how their vehicle operates on the road, and cannot be impaired behind the wheel. The rest of the country has similar state laws.
When level 5 autonomous vehicles become available to the public, it is possible for these laws to change. Level 5 classifies any occupants of the vehicle as passengers, not drivers. This seems like a scenario in which alcohol consumption could be allowed one day, but it cannot happen until self-driving cars require no backup driver. Even now, you can get charged with a DUI for just sitting in your parked car with the keys in the car. The law is very careful when it comes to alcohol impaired driving, and will probably continue to be just as cautious with self-driving vehicle laws.