Autopilot aeroplane, the autopilot engine pulls the entire train. Surprising isn’t it! No human as a driver yet it flies, runs on the track, and even flies. Yes, with artificial intelligence this is possible. It’s already implemented. But today we will discuss only automated cars. Laws governing it and the liability in case of an accident.

Tesla is likely to hit the roads in India. It’s an automated car. When it’s going to be part of our normal life, we must know what provisions of the law will be applicable to the crimes.

In general Motor Vehicle Act, of 1988 is applicable to vehicles, licenses, crimes,  accidents, etc. relating to vehicles on roads.

We will limit today’s discussion to the area of accidents by self-driven automated cars. What are the laws which govern accidents by automated cars?

First, we will see legal provisions under the Indian Penal code: Accident in doing a lawful act.—Nothing is an offence which is done by accident or misfortune, and without any criminal intention or knowledge in the doing of a lawful act in a lawful manner by lawful means and with proper care and caution. Illustration A is at work with a hatchet; the head flies off and kills a man who is standing by. Here, if there was no want of proper caution on the part of A, his act is excusable and not an offence.

Section 279 in The Indian Penal CodeRash driving or riding on a public way.—Whoever drives any vehicle, or rides, on any public way in a manner so rash or negligent as to endanger human life, or to be likely to cause hurt or injury to any other person, shall be punished with im­prisonment of either description for a term which may extend to six months, or with fine which may extend to one thousand rupees, or with both.

Is offence cognizable under S279?

The offence punishable under section 279 of IPC is a cognizable offence where the police have a right to arrest a person for an offence without a warrant, but such offences are bailable in nature and are triable by the Magistrate who is having the authority over the area wherein such offence has been committed.

Now, what happens when an automated car meets with an accident?


Motor Vehicle Act 1988 does not provide for an automated car.

However, Section 2(9) says “driver” includes, in relation to a motor vehicle which is drawn by another motor vehicle, the person who acts as a steersman of the drawn vehicle.

It means the person on the steering wheel is a driver and is an inclusive definition. But there is no provision for automated drivers.

What is the difference between a vehicle and a motor vehicle?

Vehicle means an Eligible Vehicle purchased by You being the vehicle specified on the certificate of insurance. Motor Vehicles means motor vehicles, tractors, trailers and other like property, whether or not the title thereto is governed by a certificate of title or ownership but does not include any vehicle or car operated on a rail or rails wither on or off the publicly used highways.

What is inclusive?

Let us see what is opined by the Courts:

C.I.T., Andhra Pradesh v. M/s. Taj Mahal Hotel, Secunderabad Supreme Court observed that the “word “includes” is often used in interpretation clauses in order to enlarge the meaning of the words or phrases occurring in the body of the statute. When it is so used, those words and phrases must be construed as comprehending not only such things as they signify according to their nature and import but also those things which the interpretation clause declares that they shall include. The word “include” is also susceptible of other constructions which it is unnecessary to go into.”

Reserve Bank of India v. Peerless General Finance & Investment Co. Ltd. & Ors. Supreme Court held that when legislatures resort to inclusive definition i.e. to enlarge the meaning of words or phrases so as to take in the ordinary, popular and natural sense of the words depending on the context by process of enlarging the definition may even become exhaustive.

Court has further clarified that the Legislatures resort to “include” the definitions (a) to enlarge the meaning of words or phrases so as to take in the ordinary, popular and natural sense of the words and also the sense which the statute wishes to attribute to it, (b) to include meanings about which there may be some dispute, or (c) to bring under one nomenclature all transactions possessing certain similar features but going under different names. Depending upon the context, in the process of enlarging, the definition may even become exhaustive

In Ramanlal Bhailal Patel and others Vs. State of Gujarat Supreme Court held that the use of the word ‘includes’ indicates an intention to enlarge the meaning of the word used in the Statute. Consequently, the word must be construed as comprehending not only such things which they signify according to their natural import but also those things which the interpretation clause declares that they shall include. Thus, where a definition uses the word ‘includes’, as contrasted from ‘means’, the word defined not only bears its ordinary popular and natural meaning but in addition also bear the extended statutory meaning (See S.K. Gupta v. K.P. Jain, following Dilworth vs. Commissioner of Stamps, vs. Middlesex County Council.)

Comments and Annotations :

So, the question arises whether the “inclusive” definition in the Motor Vehicle Act 1988 may shield and secure Auto-Pilot cars?

Well, there is also a principle of ejusdem generis


It is observed in Craies on Statute Law (6th Edn.) p. 181 that :

“The ejusdem generis rule is one to be applied with caution and not pushed too far, as in the case of many decisions, which treat it as automatically applicable, and not as being, what it is, a mere presumption in the absence of other indications of the intention of the legislature. The modem tendency of the law, it was said, is “to attenuate the application of the rule of ejusdem generis”. To invoke the application of the ejusdem generis rule there must be a distinct genus or category. The specific words must apply not to different objects of a widely differing character but to something which can be, called a class or kind of objects. According to Sutherland Statutory Construction (3rd Edn.) Vol. II p. 395, for the application of the doctrine of ejusdem generis, the following conditions must exist.

Obiter :

In Lilavati Bai v. The State of Bombay, it was observed “The rule of ejusdem generis is intended to be applied where general words have been used following particular and specific words of the same nature on the established rule of construction that the legislature presumed to use the general words in a restricted sense; that is to say, as belonging to the same genus’ as the particular and specific words. Such a restricted meaning has to be given to words of general import only where the context of the whole scheme of legislation requires it. But where the content and the object and mischief of the enactment do not require such restricted meaning to be attached to words of general import, it becomes the duty of the courts to give those words their plain and ordinary meaning,”

Can Auto Pilot be called “Driver”?

View: (not conclusion) If you read the definition,  we can include self-driven cars within the purview of the Act. As the definition is inclusive. But the problem arises of vicarious liability. Our law has no provision for prosecution and payment of compensation if an accident occurs. The United Kingdom has abated this issue and has enacted the Automated and Electric Vehicles Act 2018. It has fixed liability on insurers if an accident occurs with an automated car.

Below is the link

Conclusive Remarks:

India is awaiting Tesla and other electric vehicles and automated cars. We await legislation and we can follow the footsteps of the United Kingdom with modifications compatible with our laws.

Shruti Desai

21st July,2022