Soon, you could be able to drink till you drop and still drive in Australia — as long as your car does the driving.

Don't drink and drive.

Image credits Mass Communication Specialist 3rd Class Bryan Reckard / U.S. Navy.

It seems certain that autonomous vehicles are making their way into our lives. With that in mind, we have to tailor existing legislation to their use so that we may get the full benefits out of them. At least, that’s what The Australian National Transport Commission (NTC) plans to do. And they’re starting with DUI laws.

In a report published earlier this month, the NTC proposes changing current legislature on DUI. They argue that requiring for occupants of self-driving cars to be sober only negates part of the benefits of such technology.

“One potential barrier to receiving the full benefits of automated vehicles would be to require occupants of automated vehicles, who are not driving, to comply with drink-driving laws,” the report reads.

“This would create a barrier to using a vehicle to safely drive home after drinking.”

Their solution is to amend current rules and regulations with an exemption for autonomously driving vehicles. In essence, this would mean that no matter how monumentally shattered you are, as long as your car is driving itself, it’s not DUI. The Commission, however, admits this exemption should be used only in cases where the driver’s vehicle is fully automated.

“A risk of providing exemptions is that an occupant may subsequently choose to take over driving the vehicle while under the influence of alcohol or drugs,” the report read.

“If this occurred, they would become the driver of the vehicle and drink and drug driving offences would apply.”

While self-driving cars are poised to hit the roads, they won’t simply take over — at first, they will share the tarmac with human-operated cars. As such, there will be situations when a driver has to take control of the autonomous vehicle to avoid risk or navigate dangerous situations. In such a case, the full extent of DUI laws would still apply, the report notes. Even after full automation, when cars would be perfectly capable of running any trip entirely unsupervised, if a driver were to take manual control of the vehicle, DUI laws would still apply.

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So the NTC also recommends that the exemptions be made as clear-cut as possible, so people may get maximum use out of their vehicles without getting into trouble.

“The occupants will always be passengers,” their report concludes. “The situation is analogous to a person instructing a taxi driver where to go. Any exemptions should not apply to the fallback-ready user of a vehicle with conditional automation. A fallback-ready user is required to be receptive to requests to intervene or system failures and must take over the dynamic driving task if the ADS cannot perform it.”

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