This brief introduction to regulation of autonomous vehicles has been authored by Khushi Sharma and Aarushi Kapoor, second year students of Hidayatullah National Law University (HNLU), Raipur. [Ed. Note: This article was written before the 2019 Personal Data Protection Bill had been made public. Click here for the new Bill.]
India being the 7th largest manufacturer of commercial vehicles in the year 2017-18, coupled with its automobile sector which is the 4th largest in the world, are key factors driving India’s economic growth. Technological advancement is both a cause and effect of this growth. Innovative minds rule India and the world today to such an unimaginable extent that the very idea of acar running by itself with onejust sitting back and relaxing, now seems a reality. The debut of driverless vehicles in India was at Defexpo 2016 in New Delhi where Novus Drive, a driverless shuttle was introduced. However, a recurring question is ‘Are we really ready yet?’
The problem isn’t just limited to the congested Indian roads, infamous for being crowded with traffic and processions, or an increase in unemployment as a result of automation, but also extends to the support these vehicles will draw from the Indian legal system. This blog explores the correlation between the requirements for the adoption of autonomous vehicles and current legislation.
1. Motor Vehicles Act: Then and Now
The Motor Vehicles Act (“MV Act”) 1939, makes it compulsory for a motor vehicle to be driven only with a driving license by someone who is above 18 years of age, with the responsibility being placed on the owner to ensure the same. The introduction of autonomous vehicles will likely question such provisions in this regard, i.e., if the same responsibilities of the owner will continue or if a special sort of license for these vehicles will be required or if minors would be allowed to operate the car. As per Section 41 of the said Act, the State Government holds the power to restrict the use of the vehicles ‘in the interest of public safety’. This provision if left unamended is likely to attract varying regulations governing autonomous vehicles.
Moreover, an award of compensation is based on the principle of “no-fault” liability. The Supreme Court’s decision in Manushri Raha v. B.L.Gupta (AIR 1977 SC 1158) and the recommendations of the law commission were incorporated in the amended MV Act of 1988, with Sections 140 to 144 providing compensation based on the principle of no fault. Section 144 imposes strict liability on the owner on behalf of the insurance company. This has serious implications while dealing with the driverless vehicles wherein determination of the liability will not be straightforward, and a straitjacket formulation of strict liability rule holding the manufacturers liable would be counterproductive to technological growth.
Recently the proposed amendments to the “MV Act” of 2017, implemented in 2019, have witnessed the insertion of Section 2B, which enlarges the scope for promotion of innovation and development in the field of engineering and mechanically propelled vehicles which could be liberally interpreted to include within its ambit autonomous vehicles and their testing on roads as such. A sound proposal for the formation of the National Transportation Policy talks about promotion of competition, innovation and greater efficiency in transportation for addressing the current and future challenges in § 66A (1)(v) and (vii). Making a move towards automation, the Act in § 56(2) provides for automated testing of vehicles before they could be granted the fitness certificate. Also by the authorization provided by the act in § 215 B(2)(e), the National Road Safety Board has the power to advise the Central Government with regard to promotion of new technology.
Hence, what could be concluded is that no explicit mention of autonomous vehicles could be seen in the Act, but however the Act has certain abovementioned provisions which implicitly promote the innovation in technology consistent with the changing times.
2. Consumer Protection Act: Then and Now
With a driverless car bumping against a person, the determination of liability raises new speculations hence leading to new legal complexities. Consumer Protection Act, 2019, imposes a responsibility on the manufacturer, but the introduction of driverless cars will further add to this burden. Issues dealing with negligence, manufacturing defects, design defects, failure to warn, misrepresentations unfair, trade practices, breach of warranty and strict liability all fall under the act. Further the Act provides a right of consumer education and hence while dealing with autonomous vehicles consumers have to be educated accordingly as to their operations and taking control at the time of emergencies.
3. Information Technology Act, 2000
Autonomous vehicles rely entirely on data. The fleet of vehicles work on an integrated data network concerning the inputs ranging from the desired destinations to favorite playlists including the most visited sites. Since it qualifies to be called sensitive data, its protection is of utmost importance and if tampered could infringe the privacy of a person causing violation of fundamental rights. Hence Information Technology Act, 2000, and Information Technology (Reasonable security practices and procedures and sensitive personal data or information) Rules, lay down the provisions inter alia for protection of Sensitive Data and Personal Information. The Act defines hacking as a 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. Section 43 and Section 66 of the Information Technology Act, 2000 deal with damage to computer and computer systems and punishments and compensations to be awarded in case of such offences. Section 43A deals with the failure to protect data by any ‘body corporate’.
Hence the scope of such provisions would have to be enlarged to contemplate possibilities of a car’s data being hacked by a third party. Detailed and elaborate laws incorporating rules and regulations dealing with protection and responsible utilization of passenger data, along with increasing threat of hackers, cyber espionage and warfare is the need of the hour.
4. Personal Data Protection Bill, 2018
The very involvement of driverless cars in our daily lives is most likely to expose our lives and our personal information like driver details and location history at stake. Recently, Personal Data Protection Bill, 2018 was tabled by the Committee of Experts which has been entrusted with creating a Data Protection Framework for India. This bill mandates the requirement of a ‘Data Fiduciary’ to provide prior notice to the person whose data has to be accessed inclusive of reasons for data collection.
In the context of driverless cars, the car manufacturer will play this role, since it will be the one commanding the car. “Personal data” has been defined as “data about or relating to a natural person who is directly or indirectly identifiable, having regard to any characteristic, trait, attribute or any other feature of the identity of such natural person, or any combination of such features, or any combination of such features with any other information.” Making consent mandatory while acknowledging some exceptions, this bill seeks to establish a Data Protection Authority specifically looking into matters related to privacy infringements.
This shows that India, despite being quite reactive towards the acceptance of technology may not be that effective in output generation owing to certain hindrances. As a labor dominated economy, automation would mean a further blow to already existing unemployment. Moreover, the Indian Legal Framework provides a very narrow and implicit scope for the promotion of innovation which won’t be enough to encourage automation. Indian laws are, evidently, yet to catch up with technology. No doubt, the scope of the Indian laws is being widened by judicial pronouncements and amendments; however, they have a long way to go.
Automobile Industry in India –
India ranks 4th largest auto-market now – https://economictimes.indiatimes.com/industry/auto/india-pips-germany-ranks-4th-largest-auto-market-now/articleshow/63438236.cms
The Motor Vehicles Act,1988 –https://indiacode.nic.in/handle/123456789/1798?sam_handle=123456789/1362
The Motor Vehicles (Amendment) Act,2019 –
Personal Data Protection Bill, 2018 –