Artificial Intelligence or AI is evolving into a powerful tool that enables
machines to think and act like humans. There is considerable empirical evidence
to infer that AI is "Cognitive Computing" where machines (Specifically
computers) are being made to infer, reason, perceive, think, sense and act like
Autonomous Vehicles or Self-Driven Cars use AI to control the car. Autonomous
cars works and is dependent on sensors, actuators, complex algorithms, machine
learning systems and powerful processors to implement software. Autonomous cars
sense the environment based on a variety of sensors situated in different parts
of the vehicle.
Radars sensors monitor the position and distance of the nearby
vehicle. Cameras detect traffic lights, road signs, track other vehicles and
look for pedestrians. LIDAR (Light detection and ranging) sensors bounce a pulse
of light off the car's surroundings to measure distance, detect road edges and
identify lane marking.[i]
As of now, the concern is not weather India is in the position to accommodate
Autonomous vehicles, but whether Indian Laws are capable to tackle the problem
arising out of it i.e., liability for accidents.
This blog is an attempt to investigate the means and need for the legislation
for liability by the conceptual study of existing regulatory framework covering
motor vehicle in India, through the study of legislations in United Kingdom and
United States of America, both of which have remarkably excelled in developing
their legal provisions to accommodate autonomous vehicles.
Legislation in US and UK
UK is one of the most developed countries in the world and also it is the most
fast forward country to regulate Autonomous Vehicle or Self-Driven Cars. In
2018, the Automated and Electric Vehicles Act, 2018 was passed. Section 2(2) of
statute (iii) explicitly mentions that the owner of the vehicle will be held
liable for any accident involved. The same principle applies in case of death
due to an accident.[ii]
Further, Section 4 of this act specifically mentions that if the autonomous
vehicle is insured and the accident is caused, the liability of the owner
decreases. But in short, the act does not mention the liability of the
manufacturer of the car and who have developed the AI system but it clearly
mentions that the liability is on the owner of the car even if it's a fault of
AI. This is problem because this does not only create problems for the owner of
the car but also for the administration of Justice.
But in early 2022, the proposed plan of UK of 2025 for Self-Driven Cars mentions
that the manufacturer and not the owner will be held liable for any accidents
involved while driving it in self-driven mode.[iii]
In United States of America, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration
of USA released its "Federal Automated Vehicles Policy" in September 2016, which
would also update annually. Section 2 of the guidance, the model delineates
federal versus state authority. While the federal government is held responsible
for setting up motor vehicle safety standards, state remains the lead regulator
when it comes to licensing, registration, traffic law enforcement, safety
inspections, infrastructure and insurance and liability.
Eleven states and the
district of Columbia have passed legislation related to autonomous vehicles but
all these vary in their scope. States in the US play a more important role than
federal for the regulation of Autonomous Vehicle.[iv]
The most common is few of the states is that if vehicle is in autopilot, then
the owner may not be liable and the liability may arise on the part of
The fatal Uber accident in Arizona, where car was being driven in autopilot and
at the speed of 39mph, collided with an old woman on bicycle aged 49. The US
National Transportation Safety Board commented that the driver was watching a
T.V show in his mobile phone and his eyes was off to the road few seconds before
the incident. The NTSB found that human error was mostly to blame for accident
and the driver was held liable in the 1st appearance in the court.
Legislations in India
India, being a country, which is in the process of development is trying its
best to at par with modern technology. Currently, in India, there is no specific
legislation to regulate Autonomous Vehicle or specifically Self-Driven Cars.
In present, any instances for accidents where a motor vehicle is involved is
regulated by "Indian Penal Code, 1960" (IPC) and the "Motor Vehicle Act, 1988"
The operation of vehicle is regulated by MV Act. It does not allow license or
usage of Autonomous Vehicle in India. As in the question of liability for Death
and Permanent Disablement, MV Act follows the principle of 'No Fault' liability
as per section 140. The owner of the vehicle is held liable for the compensation
to the aggrieved party. In case of speeding or in a manner dangerous to the
public, the owner is liable for imprisonment for six-months � 2 years depending
on the situation and number of times such offence is committed as per section
184 of MV Act.
But there is another latent question that weather the principle of 'No Fault
Liability', according to which, the owner of the car will be held liable, should
be applied to accidents involving self-driven cars?
Section 144 for MV Act, 1988 prescribes the amount of compensation of Rs. 50000
for Death and Rs. 25000 for permanent disability. But in the case of Haji
Zakaria v. Naoshir Cama, a very important question arose, weather defendant can
be held liable for compensation even with no rash or negligent driving involved?
� The supreme court was of the view that no liability can be imposed on the
owner of the vehicle if there is an absence of Negligence. So, if we apply this
judgement on the accidents involving self-driven cars, the negligence is done by
the manufacturer and not by the owner of the car.[v]
Proposed amendment for MV Act, 2016 is still pending which allows and seeks to
exempt certain vehicle from the MV Act to foster research, development and
As per IPC, various laws related to Rash Driving, causing death by negligence,
causing hurt and causing grievous hurt. For rash driving, as per section 279;
Whoever drives any vehicle, or rides, on any public way in a manner so rash or
negligent as to endanger human life, or to be likely to cause hurt or injury to
any other person, shall be punished with im-presentment of either description
for a term which may extend to six months, or with fine which may extend to one
thousand rupees, or with both.[vi]
For causing death by Negligence (section 304A);
Whoever causes the death of any person by doing any rash or negligent act not
amounting to culpable homicide, shall be punished with imprisonment of either
description for a term which may extend to two years, or with fine, or with
For Hurt (section 319);
Whoever causes bodily pain, disease or infirmity to any person is said to cause
And for Grievous Hurt (section 322);
Whoever voluntarily causes hurt, if the hurt which he intends to cause or knows
himself to be likely to cause is grievous hurt, and if the hurt which he causes
is grievous hurt, is said "voluntarily to cause grievous hurt."[ix]
The SC while deciding the case The State of Arunachal Pradesh v. Ramchandra
Ravidas in 2019, the SC penned down the judgement and held that, both the
statutes are different from each other. The IPC has a broader approach on
criminal wrong doings and MV is to maintain road safety standards, and also a
person can be held liable in both of them but the crucial point is that both of
them does not includes self-driven cars.
AI is taking hold of this world in every sphere whether it be transport,
services, agriculture, healthcare, plagiarism etc. The increase in the use of
self-driven cars shows that very soon, use of such car will become a norm. It is
difficult to decide the liability in cases of self-driven cars and also
difficult to prove weather the driver will be held liable or the manufacturer
will be liable.
USA and UK have many legislations related to Autonomous Vehicles as compared to
India where there are no legal provisions for such vehicles.
In order to look into the problem in case of India, it is necessary to address
the laws which are of significance. As in IT Act of 2000, which talks about
privacy and confidentiality which includes personal data and sensitive
information and as instances of hacking taking place in this era of technology,
AI is also prone to be hacked by Hackers. So it is also important to define out
the liability for Accidents caused by Hacking of AI System in autonomous
India has no legislations for Autonomous Vehicles in the present, so either
Indian law makers have to amend MV Act, 1988, the consumer protection act, 1986
and IPC, 1960 for regulation and liability of Autonomous Vehicles or they have
to make new laws for Autonomous Vehicles in India.
Hence, to accommodate Autonomous Vehicles in India, Indian laws have to be
stringent in case of accidents involving Autonomous Vehicles and the question of
liability arising out of such accidents, by considering different laws passed by
- Lakshay Soni, Student at Institute of Law, Nirma
- Mandvi Khangarot, Student at Institute of Law, Nirma
Whether There Is A Need To Regulate Autonomous Vehicles At This Nascent
Stage Of Its Development?