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THE LEGAL IMPLICATIONS OF AUTONOMOUS VEHICLES

Introduction

Autonomous vehicles commonly referred to as self-driving cars utilize a multitude of sensors, cameras, radar, and AI in order to autonomously detect and react to their environment, thereby enabling autonomous operation. Autonomous vehicles, commonly referred to as self-driving cars, are able to navigate and drive without human input by utilizing a combination of sensors, cameras, radar, and artificial intelligence (AI). The Society of Automotive Engineers (SAE) has established various levels of autonomy for these vehicles, ranging from Level 0 (no automation) to Level 5 (full automation). Level 5 autonomous vehicles are capable of operating independently of human involvement; however, lower levels may necessitate some form of human input or monitoring. Autonomous vehicles have the potential to revolutionize transportation by reducing the incidence of accidents due to human error, optimizing traffic flow and congestion, and providing mobility options for those who are unable to drive themselves. However, many technological, legislative, and moral issues must be addressed before self-driving cars can become a prevalent reality.

GOOD IMPACTS

  • Autonomous vehicles have the capability to interact with other autonomous vehicles and traffic infrastructure, which facilitates the optimization of routes and speeds. This could lead to a decrease in traffic congestion on India’s heavily congested roads.
  • Autonomous vehicles demonstrate the potential to mitigate human errors on Indian roads, which could lead to a substantial decrease in vehicular fatalities.
  • Autonomous vehicles could improve mobility for those who are not capable of driving themselves, such as the elderly or individuals with disabilities.
  • Autonomous vehicles could lead to an increase in resource efficiency, including fuel, as well as a decrease in transportation time and cost.

BAD IMPACTS

  • Autonomous vehicles may lead to a decrease in employment opportunities within the transportation industry, as certain positions, such as truck drivers, may become redundant.
  • The implementation of self-driving vehicles in India may be hindered by the high cost of investing in and maintaining the technology necessary for their operation, which may be unaffordable for many individuals and corporations.
  • India’s current infrastructure is not conducive to the implementation of autonomous vehicles, necessitating extensive capital investments to upgrade the nation’s roads and traffic control mechanisms.
  • Autonomous vehicles are subject to cybersecurity risks, which if not adequately managed could lead to a significant threat to public safety.

The legality of these vehicles in India

The development of Autonomous Vehicles (AVs) is one of the foremost technological breakthroughs in recent times. These AVs have the potential to revolutionize the transportation sector, rendering it safer, more effective, and eco-friendly. India, being the second-most populous nation in the world, could gain immense benefits from these AVs if certain legal challenges are addressed. In this blog, we will further investigate the legal implications of Autonomous Vehicles in India.

Liability issues: One of the most important legal issues surrounding AVs is liability. In a classic automotive collision, the driver is held accountable for any damages incurred. But the situation is different with AVs. If an accident occurs, the manufacturer, software developer, or vehicle operator may be held liable. It is critical to establish clear liability laws in order to decide who will be held accountable in the event of an accident. In India, liability laws are not well defined, making it difficult to establish who will be held liable in the event of an accident. The Motor Vehicles Act of 1988, which controls the Indian vehicle sector, must be modified to reflect the changes brought about by AVs. The government should set clear criteria to establish accountability and compensation for accidents involving AVs.

Data privacy and security: AVs are equipped with sensors, cameras, and other devices that collect and transmit data to the cloud. This data is used to improve the performance of the vehicle and enhance the driving experience. However, this data could also be misused, leading to privacy and security concerns. It is essential to have strict regulations to protect the privacy of users’ data and prevent it from being misused. India does not have a comprehensive data protection law. The Personal Data Protection Bill, 2019, which aims to provide a framework for the protection of personal data in India, is currently under review. The government needs to ensure that the bill includes provisions that protect the privacy of data collected by AVs.

Cybersecurity: Cyber-attacks against autonomous vehicles could jeopardize the safety of passengers and other road users. To prevent such assaults, it is critical to have strong cybersecurity policies in place. India recently released the National Cyber Security Strategy 2020, which intends to boost the country’s cybersecurity posture. Therefore, procedures must be included in the strategy to address the cybersecurity issues specific to AVs.

The Motor Vehicles Act of 1988 does not include any provisions regarding autonomous vehicles, including the testing of autonomous vehicles on Indian roads in accordance with existing regulations. Despite being in consideration for almost four years, an amendment to the Motor Vehicles Act that would enable autonomous vehicle testing has yet to gain much traction. The Motor Vehicles Act requires that only those over the age of eighteen who possess a driver’s license are eligible to operate a vehicle; however, this rule is rendered impractical with regard to autonomous vehicles unless the government creates a separate license for users. Additionally, Section 109 of the Motor Vehicles Act stipulates that every motor vehicle must be manufactured and maintained in such a way that it is always under the operator’s control, which is not the case with autonomous vehicles. Furthermore, it raises the question of whether minors can ride alone in fully autonomous vehicles since they are not technically driving. Furthermore, who is liable after an accident in which the insurer is required to pay for the damages? Who is the owner? Who is the driver? Or perhaps the manufacturer?

Under section 2(34) of the Consumer Protection Act, the definition of product liability is given as “the responsibility of a product manufacturer or product seller, of any product or service, to compensate for any harm caused to a consumer by such defective product manufactured or sold or by a deficiency in services relating thereto”.

The right to privacy is regarded as a fundamental right in India, but no particular data protection legislation has been implemented. The Indian legislature did, however, update the Information Technology Act (2000) to include Sections 43A and 72A, which provide for compensation for the improper disclosure of personal information.

Under Section 43A of the IT Act, the government then issued the Information Technology (Reasonable Security Policies and Processes and Sensitive Personal Data or Information) Regulations, 2011. The Regulations have put new responsibilities on commercial and business entities in India relating to the collection and dissemination of sensitive personal data or information.

Conclusion

Consequently, while the implementation of autonomous vehicles in India has the potential to be beneficial, the potential consequences must be thoroughly examined. Legislators should strive to ameliorate these problems and ensure that the advantages of autonomous vehicles are shared equitably and sustainably.

To control the testing and deployment of autonomous cars, a regulatory framework is required. This framework should outline the circumstances for testing autonomous vehicles on public roads, as well as the safety criteria that must be satisfied and the requirements for obtaining the relevant permissions and licenses. The Indian government proposed draught standards for autonomous vehicle testing in 2017, but they had not been approved as of September 2021.

To conclude, while autonomous cars have the potential to change transportation in India, their implementation requires careful consideration of legal consequences. To ensure that the benefits of autonomous vehicles may be achieved while reducing the hazards, the government must establish a clear legislative framework that addresses liability, data privacy and security concerns, and safety standards.

Author(s) Name: Parth Mehrotra (Bharti Vidyapeeth New Law College, Pune)