An Analysis On Legal Challenges For Autonomous Vehicles In India

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Index 

  1. Introduction 
  2. The Future Of Autonomous Vehicles In India’s Automobile Industry
  3. Legal Challenges Hindering Autonomous Vehicles In India
  4. Overhauling India’s Legal Framework For Autonomous Vehicles
  5. Conclusion 

Introduction 

A self-driven, autonomous, or driverless vehicle can operate and perform essential functions without any human help. It uses advanced sensors to understand its surroundings and a fully-automated driving system to respond to the environment like a human driver.

Currently, there are six levels of automation for vehicles, ranging from zero to five. These levels define how independent and capable a vehicle is in its operations.

Level Zero: At this level, there is complete reliance on a human driver for all driving and operational tasks. The vehicle has no automation features.

Level One: Vehicles at this level have an Advanced Driver Assistance System (ADAS) that enhances driving by assisting with either accelerating, steering, or braking. The driver still manages most of the driving tasks.

Level Two: Here, the ADAS can handle accelerating, steering, and braking in certain situations. However, the human driver remains in control and must manage additional driving tasks.

Level Three: This level introduces the Advanced Driving System (ADS), which can control almost all driving tasks until it requests the human driver to take over. The driver must be ready to intervene when necessary.

Level Four: At this level, the ADS can automate nearly all driving tasks in most situations with minimal human intervention required.

Level Five: This is the highest level of automation where the ADS can fully operate the vehicle without any human assistance. This level relies on technologies like 5G, enabling vehicles to communicate with other cars, traffic signals, signs, and roads.

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Another key aspect of autonomous driving is maintaining vehicle speed. This is managed by Adaptive Cruise Control (ACC), which ensures a proper distance between vehicles and automatically adjusts speed.

The rise of automated vehicles is seen as a way to reduce labour and accidents. However, the societal and legal impacts are significant and cannot be overlooked. Most of the advancements and regulations around these vehicles are currently found in developed countries where the revolution has begun.

The Future Of Autonomous Vehicles In India’s Automobile Industry

The automobile industry in India contributes 7.1% to the country’s Gross Domestic Product (GDP) and is one of the largest globally. It plays a crucial role in domestic employment, manufacturing, production, exports, foreign trade, and revenue. The industry’s future undeniably lies in innovation, advancement, and, most importantly, automation. Consequently, many Indian and foreign companies are investing in Autonomous Vehicles (AVs) and their introduction to the Indian market.

Globally, numerous automobile manufacturers and technology giants such as Tesla, General Motors, Audi, Mercedes-Benz, Nissan, Uber, Toyota, and others are dedicating significant resources and time to develop AVs. However, the Indian auto industry lags behind its international counterparts in developmental pace. Additionally, the Indian government has shown reluctance to introduce autonomous vehicles on Indian roads due to concerns about massive job losses.

Since driving is a major source of income for a large portion of the population, the government fears that introducing AVs could lead to unemployment for over 10 million people. This administrative resistance makes many investors hesitant to view India as a promising market for self-driven vehicles.

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Another challenge to this revolutionary project is the poor condition of India’s roads and highways, which suffer from infrastructural deficiencies and contribute to high accident rates. Despite these challenges, many Indian startups and established companies like Tata and Mahindra are investing in the AV sector’s development.

Introducing AV technology in India could address various issues, including pollution levels, carbon emissions, fuel usage, road overcrowding, urban planning, road development, and enhanced network connectivity. These potential benefits highlight the transformative impact AV technology could have on the country’s infrastructure and environment.

Legal Challenges Hindering Autonomous Vehicles In India

The current legal framework for automobiles in India poses a significant obstacle to the introduction of autonomous vehicles (AVs), necessitating a major legal-policy transformation.

Automobiles in India are regulated by the Motor Vehicles Act, 1988, which does not permit the use of autonomous vehicles. The regulatory system is highly restrictive and complicated, prohibiting even the testing of AVs.

A major issue in legalising AVs is determining liability in case a self-driven vehicle causes an accident. Under current Indian laws, Section 140 of the Motor Vehicles Act, 1988 imposes no-fault liability on the owner or insurance company in cases of fatality or permanent disability.

Additionally, the emergence of AVs raises privacy concerns, as these vehicles require extensive personal data and user preferences to operate effectively.

Overhauling India’s Legal Framework For Autonomous Vehicles

A comprehensive review of the current legal regime regulating India’s automobile industry is essential to address its shortcomings and pave the way for autonomous vehicles (AVs).

First, there is a need to issue licences for AV trials and establish rigorous safety guidelines. New legislation should address liability in accidents, determining whether a mishap was due to a technical glitch (such as a coding or design error) or a malware/cyberattack by a third party.

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Lawmakers must ensure that the new laws provide adequate data protection and privacy safeguards for users. Intellectual property rights (IPR) protection is also crucial, and AV technology should be incorporated into existing IPR laws.

The insurance landscape will also transform, with legal responsibility shifting from car owners to manufacturers, coders, or technology firms. New threats, such as software failures or AI-related issues, will need to be covered by insurance claims.

Conclusion 

It’s crucial to emphasise that the primary goal of any new technology is the welfare and safety of the public. Like all innovations, autonomous vehicles (AVs) are not without potential errors, necessitating thorough testing to ensure they meet stringent security standards for human users. Future laws must also have robust provisions for determining liability.

While the government’s concerns about job losses due to AVs in India are valid, it’s essential to recognize the broader opportunities that this technology brings. AVs can pave the way for advancements in Artificial Intelligence, Information Technology, engineering, robotics, automobile, and software development industries in India. Nurturing these sectors is key to shaping a promising future.

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