Laws Regarding Autonomous Vehicles in India

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With the technological advancement and rise in the AI (Artificial Intelligence) development we see new wonders and miracles almost similar to a fantasy becoming real every day. One of such miracles is the introduction of the term “Autonomous” in modern technology.

Autonomous means being “not subject to the rule or control of another”, in simple terms not being under any outside control. From the past, scientists have tried to develop machines which will make most complicated and even day to day activities easy for the human kind.

However, these machines still required supervision and care from any outside force. To make the machines free from the taxing and unneeded supervision, autonomous technology was introduced to the modern age. Although automation is not such a foreign concept in other fields, transportation has seen rise in this field recently. A lot of speculations were made regarding the future of vehicles and modes of transportation in general, being automatic was a given in them. Despite being far away from seeing flying cars in our daily sky, the age of seeing driverless cars is here. For a firm standpoint, the vehicles which are able to drive themselves from point A to point B and take all the decisions encountered between those points itself are called autonomous.


The efforts of people trying to make machines needing less manual support and introducing automation dates back to the period between about 300 BC and about 1200 AD. It used to be a preoccupation of the Greeks and Arabs.

A fully automated machine was not introduced till 17711, when Richard Arkwright invented the first fully automated spinning mill driven by water power, known at the time as the water frame. An automatic flour mill was developed by Oliver Evans in 1785, making it the first completely automated industrial process.


However, experiments on self-driving cars didn’t begin till the 1920’s. Worthwhile results came till 1950’s and work has proceeded since then. In 1925, Houdina Radio Control demonstrated the radio-controlled “American Wonder” on New York City streets, traveling up Broadway and down Fifth Avenue through the thick traffic jam. The technology has advanced by leaps and bounds every decade since then. General Motors at the 1939 World’s Fair, exhibited radio-controlled electric cars moving with the help of electromagnetic fields provided by the circuits embedded in the roadways.

The main focus of the researchers and scientists has been on how to move the vehicle from point A to point B without any human interference or manipulation. Any consideration for the outside factors involving environment and obstacles was not given until mid 70’s, therefore, the cars till that era cannot be said to have achieved autonomous driving. Focus on the factors said before and research into the intelligent automated logic needed for autonomous cars was conducted at the Coordinated Science Laboratory of the University of Illinois in the early to mid-1970s.

The first semi-automated car was introduced to the world in 1977. It was a project run by Japan’s Tsukuba Mechanical Engineering Laboratory, which required specially marked streets that were recorded, interpreted


and processed by two cameras on the vehicle and an analog computer. The vehicle reached speeds up to 30 kilometers per hour (19 mph) with the support of an elevated rail.2

 Major Landmarks

The first landmark autonomous car appeared in the 1880’s when Carnegie Mellon University introduced Navlab3, which was funded by the United States’ Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA).

Navlab4 were a series of computer operated vehicles developed by the robotics institute teams from the school of computer science in the university. In the series, some required little human input and some were completely autonomous. Consequently, experiments and research were conducted thoroughly. By 1985, the ALV had demonstrated self-driving speeds on two-lane roads of 31 kilometres per hour, obstacle avoidance being added in 1986, and till 1987 5it achieved off road driving in day and nighttime conditions achieving a greater milestone in the field of autonomous vehicles.

The research achieved substantial heights in 1995 when Carnegie Mellon University’s NavLab 5 completed the “first ever autonomous coast-to-coast drive of the United States. From the 4,585 km between Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania and San Diego, California, 4,501 km were autonomous (98.2%), which were completed with an average speed of

102.7 km/h.”

2 “Autonomous Cars Through The Ages”. Wired. Retrieved 26 July 2018.

3 The Carnegie Mellon University Navigation Laboratory. The Robotics Institute. Retrieved 20 December 2014

4 “Navlab: The Carnegie Mellon University Navigation Laboratory”. The Robotics Institute. Retrieved 14 July 2011.

5 (May 1988). “VITS-a vision system for automated land vehicle navigation”

These projects led to the basics and foundation of modern technology involving the development of autonomous vehicles. The dream for having driverless cars was not too far behind after this.

 Automated or Autonomous?

Confusing Automated to Autonomous is a common mistake. The earlier experiments and research conducted can be said for automated technology, while the goal was to create a completely self-governing, requiring little to no human interaction in between the decisions taken by the vehicle going through the journey. These decisions not just mean travelling in a straight line from point A to B. Being truly autonomous means going through all the hurdles and also interacting with the ever changing environment by itself.

Many historical projects related to vehicle automation have been automated (made automatic). They were heavily relying on artificial aids in their environment, such as magnetic strips, rails, radio controlled frequencies, external influence and more. Autonomous control implies satisfactory performance under significant uncertainties in the environment, and the ability to compensate while coming up with a solution for system failures without any external intervention.

 Understanding by Law

Wood et al. wrote in “The potential regulatory challenges of increasingly autonomous motor vehicles”. 52nd Santa Clara Law Review. 4 (9): 1423– article in 20126, the term “autonomous” was chosen “because it is the term that is currently in more widespread use (and thus is more familiar to the general public). However, the latter term is arguably more accurate. ‘Automated’ connotes control or operation by a machine, while ‘autonomous’ connotes acting alone or independently.”

Fact implied by the above review is that the use of the term autonomous was purely for convenience and not intentional. Current technology cannot, unfortunately, afford to be called autonomous and there is still a considerable amount of innovation to be done in the field.

In Europe, however, the words automated and autonomous might also be used together. The “automated vehicle” and “fully automated vehicle” are defined by the Regulation (EU) 2019/2144 of the European Parliament and of the Council of 27 November 2019 on type-approval requirements for motor vehicles on the basis of their autonomous capacity:7

  1. “Automated Vehicle” means a motor vehicle designed and constructed to move autonomously (without human interaction) for certain periods of time without continuous driver supervision but in respect of which driver intervention is still expected or required.
  • “Fully Automated Vehicle” means a motor vehicle that has been designed and constructed to move autonomously without any driver supervision altogether.

According to the Automated and Electric Vehicles Act 2018 The British law interprets the meaning of “automated vehicle” based on the interpretation section related to a vehicle “driving itself” and an insured vehicle.

 Types and Definitions

Autonomous vehicles are a very wide concept which includes all kinds of technical jargon. Classifying and dividing the different kinds of autonomous vehicles is important for understanding and evaluating them accordingly. Moreover, it gives a sense of understanding to the

non-technical folk with a curiosity towards them.

The British Automated and Electric Vehicles Act 2018 law defines and considers a vehicle as “driving itself” if the vehicle “is operating in a mode in which it is not being controlled, influenced or manipulated, and also does not need to be monitored, by any individual.8

A classification system with six levels which ranges from fully manual to fully automated systems was published in 2014 by SAE International, an automotive standardization body. It was published as J3016, Taxonomy and Definitions for Terms Related to On-Road Motor Vehicle Automated Driving Systems9. This classification was purely on the basis of the driver interaction and attentiveness required from them while driving the vehicle rather than the capabilities or the technology used in the vehicle to make it autonomous.

 The different types are as follows:

  1. No Automation: This type requires full-time performance and attention of the human driver in all aspects of the controlling and driving task of the vehicle; it is needed even when the vehicle is “enhanced by warning or intervention systems”
  • Driver Assistance: This type is also called “hands on” driving. It uses the information about the driving environment and with the expectation that the human driver performs all remaining aspects of controlling and driving tasks of the vehicle. In simpler terms, an automated system performs the task of acceleration/deceleration while the steering wheel is handled by the driver.
  • Partial Automation: Often referred to as the “hands off” driving. The automated driving system controls the task of steering, accelerating/decelerating and braking. However, it does not imply that hands can remain off the vehicle completely. A little interaction and presence of mind is required during the drive by humans. Although, automated driving system monitors the driving environment.

Tesla Autopilot system is classified as an SAE   Level 2 system

  • Conditional Automation: This kind of automation can be referred to as the “eyes off” driving system. The entire tasks from controlling the emergency brakes, steering, engine to the general or soft turns are automated. The computer can be compared to a co-driver who alerts the driver when his intervention is required by the vehicle. Other than the frequent intervention and keeping an eye on the road, the driver is free to perform other tasks of his/her choice.
  • High Automation: It is referred as the “mind off” automation. The driver is free to leave the driving seat and perform the tasks which could take his mind completely off the road for ex: sleeping, eating or watching a movie. Under special circumstances, the automation system can fully take control over the vehicle and perform any or almost all the tasks required while controlling the vehicle. The automation system, however, can park the vehicle or stop if intervention from humans is required or the passenger is off the steering wheel at the time.
  • Full Automation: This kind of driving system is referred to as “steering wheel optional” automation system. Here, no human intervention is required at all. An example of this kind of automation system would be a robotic vehicle that works on all kinds of surfaces, all around the world, in every season, in all weather conditions.


The classification system by Automation Levels of SAE has been criticized for only paying attention to the technology and making it the sole criteria for dividing autonomous vehicles11. According to this system, the more automation, the better it will be. This cannot always be true, taking external factors into consideration is also important. They also never took into account the changes that may be required to infrastructure and road user behavior12. Urban use of autonomous vehicles encounters a lot of unseen forces and many factors may still be unknown, future regulations might change the current classification system completely.

 Legal Status

The 1968 Vienna Convention on Road Traffic,13 which is subscribed by over 70 countries worldwide is responsible for regulating and establishing traffic laws, it also governs them. The basic groundwork for the principles was that the driver is and will be in full control of the vehicle, given there is no outside interference. In 2016 a reform was done which opened many possibilities for the automated technology, trusting a significant amount of tasks, which are performed by the driver to the system. However, the technology which is assisting in this is still undermined, implying the superficial thought given to automation systems. This means, in those countries cars might be automated or autonomous or self-driving but they can’t be driverless.

India, although not being a signatory of the Vienna convention 1968, has conversely applied the principles established in the convention.

However, Global road safety body, International Road Federation (IRF) has urged India to become a signatory to the Vienna Convention on Road Traffic (1968) and be on par with international standards in this area.14 A satisfactory decision is still to be taken on for being a signatory or not of the Vienna convention.

 Regulations in different countries

1.   United States

The United States of America is non-signatory to the Vienna convention. It does not practically accept everything about autonomous systems of driving; however, it prohibits them completely as of 201215. Several

13 “GAR – 1968 Vienna Convention”.

14 es/

15 “Automated Vehicles Are Probably Legal in The United States”

states in the country have accepted and considered enacting laws for the regulation of automated vehicles. Moreover, by 2016, seven states have even enacted some of these laws in their region. Unfortunately, the recent incidents with Tesla’s autopilot system have forced these states to re-revise and consider the laws for automation more thoughtfully.

2.   Europe

In 2013, the government of the United Kingdom took the lead and allowed testing of driverless cars on public roads.16 Before this all projects were researched and experimented on private properties, generally them being enclosed tracks.

As if taking an example, the governments of France17, Switzerland, Hungary and Germany allowed testing of automated vehicles with proper conditions and restrictions imposed in 2015 and 2017 respectively.

Regulation (EU) 2019/2144 of the European Parliament and of the Council of 27 November 2019 on type-approval requirements for motor vehicles defines specific requirements related to automated vehicles and fully automated vehicles. The law is applicable from 2022. It is based on uniform procedures and technical specifications for the systems and other items.

3.   Asia

In 2016, the Singapore Land Transit Authority began testing a fleet of robo taxis on its streets in partnership with Delphi Automotive; a UK based automotive supplier company. They will be an on demand cab service which will take effect by 2017


Japan amended two laws in 2019, “Road Traffic Act” and “Road Transport Vehicle Act”. In the Road Traffic Act level 3 self-driving cars were allowed on public roads and in the Road Transport Vehicle Act process to designate types for safety certification on Level 3 self-driving function of Autonomous Driving System (ADS) vehicles; and the certification process for were legally defined. Accepting the modern technology and taking the future to the next step, Japan, in 2020, issued an official roadmap and development plans which considered the commercialization and public acceptance of level 4 self-driving cars.19

  • China

China introduced regulations for partially automated, highly automated and complete automation vehicles in the year 2018.20 Chinese regulations make it mandatory to remotely monitor and make it capable to remake the incidents occurred during test driving and analyze them later. Also, they made it mandatory to have a test driver having at least 3 years of experience with “no incidents” occurring during that period. For future prospects China plans to add highways for the development and public use of automated vehicles in 2021.

4.   Issues posed in India

India, being a country in the process of development itself had and is trying it’s best to be on par with the modern technology. With the introduction of Tesla autopilot in the country India is closing on with the world. However, regulations relating to testing and legalization of automated driving system (ADS) vehicles are still lacking and proper consideration is to be given. Issues for self-driving cars in India are not just limited to proper roads or liability during the accidents, India faces crises bigger and more attention worthy than these.

All the operations for transports are governed by the Motor Vehicles Act, 1988, which does not even allow testing of self-driving vehicles on Indian roads. An amendment was proposed in the Motor vehicles Act bill of 2017 which provides regulations for testing. However, it is still pending.21

In India, current laws provide for ‘no fault’ liability of the owner or the insurance company if an accident results in death or permanent disablement. But with driverless cars around it is very difficult to gauge the situation and assess proper liability. A recent incident with tesla autopilot tried to hold company liable for autonomous system failure.

However, it was stated clearly that self-driving cars does not allow driver to leave the driving seat yet. This confuses law makers’ around the world.

Another major crisis for Indian government is to tackle unemployment which will be caused by driverless cars around. The government argues that there are 40 lakh drivers in the country with a shortfall of 25 lakh drivers. The government does not want to put employment opportunities for skilled drivers at stake and give that job to an automated system.

The roads in India are clearly not suitable for even normal driving. The driverless system will have even more of a hard time in navigating through crowded, traffic packed, and rash drivers. All these issues make autonomous cars a pipe dream for years to come in India.

 Future of Automation

Waymo, a US based automotive company started testing driverless cars without a safety driver in 2017. However, there was still a person present in the passenger position for monitoring and analyzing the situation from inside. In December 2018, “Waymo was the first to commercialize a fully autonomous taxi service in the US, in Phoenix, Arizona”. Waymo launched a geo-fenced driverless ride hailing service in Phoenix in October 2020.

In March 2019, Robocar, set the Guinness world record in being the fastest autonomous car in the world. It pushed the limits of self-driving vehicles, Robocar reached 282.42 km/h, an average confirmed by the UK Timing Association at Elvington in Yorkshire, UK. This was the new achievement which introduced autonomous vehicles to different fields other than public service.

On March 5, 2021, “Honda began leasing in Japan a limited edition of 100 Legend Hybrid EX sedans which were fully equipped with level 3 automated driving systems;” which had already passed with certification of Japanese government to their autonomous “Traffic Jam Pilot” driving technology. This legally allowed drivers to take their eyes off the road.22


The Autonomous system is not developed and neither completely safe, still it is a necessary evil which is required for the overall betterment of society and leap of humankind into the future of AI (Artificial Intelligence) development. Without a doubt there are several challenges which come along with the automated technology but the advantages which tag with it cannot be ignored too. Accidents can be avoided which take countless lives around the world, mostly caused by human faults.

Time management can be made easier by not involving commute time and leaving driving to an autonomous system. A paradox of automation refers to the necessity and involvement of humans in automation. It says that the more efficient and developed automated systems becomes; the more involvement of the human mind will be needed. It is critical for humans to work along with the AI to take advantage of it effectively.

Lisanne Bainbridge, a cognitive psychologist, identified these issues notably in her widely cited paper “Ironies of Automation.” If an automated system has an error, it will multiply that error until it is fixed or shut down. This is where human intervention is needed. A fatal example of this was Air France Flight 447, where a failure of automation put the pilots into a manual situation they were not prepared for.

Any progress made by humankind has not come without a price in history, and at the time of making development for a new century, being patient and drafting out proper regulations is what needed most.

Following the examples of the past, the dream of having completely automated cars running around our roads is not so unfathomable.

 Author:  Aditya Fouzdar, Jemtec School Of Law, Noida

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