• The Law Gazette

Impact and Liability of the decisions made by the Autonomous Vehicles

Artificial Intelligence is not needed to be evil, though it may harm or even kill a human being, if they happen to be in middle of a task given to them. An ‘Artificial Intelligent Machine’ is one which possesses one or more characteristics of such intensity that it may be called as intelligent as a human being. It is realized that AI has potential to transform people’s lives for the better by introducing new technologies and digital personal assistants which can anticipate our needs. AI Machines are wholly based on data generated and gathered from various sources. Hence, a biased data set could evidently lead to a biased decision by the system.


They must make decisions faster in very diverse conditions which can include many moral dilemmas as well. They have the potential to reduce the environmental pollution by optimizing their routes, driving styles by communicating with other vehicles, infrastructures and their environment. There is a considerable gap between the self-drive technology level and the current regulations; fortunately, this gap shows a continuously decreasing trend. In many types of imminent accidents management cases, there are many concerns about the ability of making the right decision. With its ability to store and transmit transaction and lifestyle data, AVs are attractive targets for hackers as such information can be sold for a financial gain, or these systems can be used to inflict physical harm by extremists or used for illegal purposes by drug traffickers.[i]


Motor Vehicles Act, 1988: The Motor Vehicles Act, 1988 (“MV Act”), mandates that a motor vehicle may not be driven without a driving license. Secondly, no person under the age of 18 is allowed to drive a motor vehicle.[ii] Appropriate amendments would have to be made to the MV Act allowing for a special sort of license for autonomous vehicles or none at all. Given that most of the functions of an autonomous vehicle, if not all, would be controlled by internal processors, the question also arises whether people below the age of 18 would be allowed to ‘operate’ the said vehicle. The MV Act initially provided for the award of compensation on the principle of “fault” only. The Supreme Court of India in the matter of Manushri Raha v. B. L. Gupta,[iii]as well as the Law Commission of India, had recommended the introduction of “no fault” liability which was subsequently not incorporated. The Motor Vehicles (Amendment) Bill, 2017 has proposed testing – though it is yet to see light of day. The Act will need an overhaul to allow licenses for trials, detailed and robust guidelines for safety assurance systems, and a well thought out regime for operations of AVs in India.[iv]

Consumer Protection Act, 2019: In the case of a driverless car getting into an accident, the issue of liability may lead to legal complexities initially. Manufacturers will be held to a higher standard of responsibility than they are currently expected to maintain. Issues pertaining to negligence, manufacturing defects, design defects, failure to warn, misrepresentation, unfair trade practices, breach of warranty and strict liability will fall under the Consumer Protection Act, 2019 (“CPA”). The CPA also establishes the right to consumer education. The consumer will have to be educated, accordingly, on how the driverless cars operate and how not to panic and take control of the vehicle in case of emergencies. Since driverless technology discounts the possibility of human error, the liability would lie either with the manufacturer[v] or with the technology provider, as the case may be, for a defect in the goods or a deficiency in the services, respectively.

Information Technology Act, 2000: Privacy and data protection would primarily come under the Information Technology Act, 2000 (“IT Act”). Section 66[vi] of the IT Act classifies hacking as the situation where someone who, with the intent to cause wrongful loss or damage, or knowledge of the same – destroys, deletes or alters any information in a computer resource, or diminishes its value, or affects it injuriously. The scope of such provisions will have to be enlarged accordingly to account for scenarios where a hacker may take over complete control of a vehicle, by hacking into the computer or a central processor operating driverless cars and coordinating traffic. Laws will also have to incorporate necessary provisions dealing with the protection and responsible utilization of passenger data, along with the increasing threat of hackers, cyber-espionage and cyber-warfare.

Geospatial Information Regulation Bill, 2016: Driverless cars would require enhanced mapping technology and increased investment in satellite infrastructure in order to ensure that such cars are provided a detailed and highly accurate global positioning system, not only to ensure that the vehicles autonomously and accurately arrive at their destinations, but also circumvent the various obstacles that they might face en route. The draft Geospatial Information Regulation Bill, 2016, introduced to regulate the acquisition, dissemination, publication and distribution of geospatial information of India, will bring the driverless car under its ambit. The Bill is still in the discussion stage.


Tort Liability: This includes traditional negligence, wherein the driver of the smart car is held liable for harms or damages caused when caution was not taken while driving the vehicle. Meaning that the driver should always be alert, and intervene whenever necessary.

Product Liability: This pertains to the liability of smart car manufacturers in terms of strict liability (despite the driver of the driverless car taking all care possible to prevent such an accident) and negligence such as design defects and product defects. A manufacturer of automobiles is under a duty to construct a vehicle that is free of latent and hidden defects.[vii] In a case,[viii] the Court concerned was of the opinion that the defendant was not under any duty to warn the plaintiff as to the alleged “latent defects” and “unsafe condition” of the vehicle in question, if in fact there were any, since the law only requires a warning when the defects would render the product unsafe for its intended use.

Strict Liability: One alternative would be an approach in which the person in charge of the autonomous vehicle has no duty (and possibly possesses no way) of interfering, but still would be considered morally responsible for possible accidents. The rationale behind this would be that the person took the risk of using the vehicle, knowing and accepting that it might cause accidents. The more we use smart cars (especially where it is not necessary), the more we put others at risk, even if we do our best to drive safely.


A different test should be endorsed for the securement of one’s driving license, which should introduce criterions that assure that the human driver will be able to handle the autonomous cars in the time of need.The manufacturers should not let the automated car directly on the road unless a full proof test is carried on with it and that they are adaptable to the different environments which they may be exposed to, and that such cars should also be able to execute quick decision making skills when it comes to the Indian infrastructure and the public around, or at least a feature should be present that allows quick transfer of control of the vehicle to the human driver, so that the driver can quickly control the car according to the situation. The changes in the laws should provide proper solutions to all the problems that may be present with the driverless cars. Laws should be for the convenience and protection of the people, and not to increase complications of the autonomous vehicles.


The laws are already evolving in order to accommodate the change in technology, however, the speed of change in technology is way ahead and faster than the speed of change in law. Suitable infrastructure is needed to be done so that the AI cars will be able to adapt faster to the Indian traffic environment. The current status of the autonomous vehicles is at level 4 of automation, which means that the Human Drivers will still have to be behind the vehicles or at least perform some of the tasks regarding the vehicles. Some of the countries like USA, China, Germany and UK[ix] have already made the required changes to their laws for autonomous vehicles and have also started developing the infrastructure accordingly. With complete automation coming into the picture, there will be a loss of employment to those who are currently engaged as drivers. The recent Amendment Bill in 2017 proposed that the automation level of the smart vehicles should be up to the level where a human driver will be sitting behind the steering wheel, and the driver is not fully relied on the AI.

ENDNOTES [i] Barabás et al 2017 IOP Conf. Ser.: Mater. Sci. Eng. 252 012096. [ii] Motor Vehicles Act, 1988, Act No. 59, Acts of Parliament, § 4 (India). [iii] Manushri Raha v. B. L. Gupta, 1977 AIR 1158 (India). [iv] Shweta Dwivedi & Rabindra Jhunjhunwala, Opinion: The Future of Autonomous Vehicles in India – Steering the Legal issues, ET Auto (July 14, 2018), https://auto.economictimes.indiatimes.com/news/industry/the-future-of-autonomous-vehicles-in-india-steering-the-legal-issues/64985989. [v] Consumer Protection Act, 2019, Act No. 35, Acts of Parliament, § 84 (India). [vi] Information Technology Act, 2000, Act No. 21, Acts of Parliament, § 66 (India). [vii] MacPherson v. Buick Motor Co., 217 N.Y. 382 (N.Y. 1916). [viii] Evans v. General Motors Corp., 459 F. Supp. 2d 407 (D. Md. 2006). [ix] Automated and Electric Vehicles Act 2018, UK Public General Acts (UK).

ABOUT THE AUTHOR This blog has been authored by Dhruti Pradhan, who is a 5th Year B.B.A., LL.B. student at Navrachana University, Vadodara.