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The dangers of drunk driving in driverless cars

Casey Speckman was driving her boss’ Tesla Model S battery-electric car when she saw an oncoming car driving in the wrong direction. After swerving to avoid a collision, the vehicle crashed into a tree and then a parking garage. Shortly after the impact, the car exploded. The driver died from the crash. Kevin McCarthy, her passenger, died from the explosion and fire that followed.

When emergency responders arrived to the crash site, they discovered massive amounts of debris, including individual batteries popping out of the vehicle and exploding.

Speckman had a blood-alcohol level of .21, nearly three times Indiana’s 0.08 limit. McCarthy’s was .17. Witnesses told authorities that the Model S was going well above the speed limit.

According to Tesla Motors, the car sustained damage that prevented it from transmitting data to the company’s servers. Data would have shown whether the car was in Autopilot mode or not.

The manufacturer also speculated that the vehicle’s semi-autonomous Autopilot was likely not engaged on the street were the crash occurred. When activated, the system limits the vehicle's speed to less than 35 miles per hour.

Introduced in 2015, the Autopilot system can automatically drive a car at a set speed while keeping it within its lane. Drivers still need to touch the wheel at certain intervals to keep the system engaged.

While driverless cars are growing in popularity and prominence, risks still exist. Being behind the wheel of a vehicle that is operating on its down still requires the same attention as its manually operated counterparts. Drivers should be focused, attentive and sober.

Innovation and intoxication do not mix.

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