Future is here: benefits and implications (legal and otherwise!) of autonomous cars

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Driver-less cars (Autonomous Cars or Avs) would soon move from beta testing phase to the release candidate. Our sci-fi movies would soon become reality. Google is about to launch its “robotaxi” in Phoenix, Arizona in the USA. This will completely revolutionize the way we travel. Driverless cars which are being used as taxis initially would dramatically reduce the cost. It is hoped that the cost of the “robotaxi’’ would prove cheaper than owning a car. The driverless car, being electric vehicles, would reduce the carbon emissions and would further strengthen the fight against pollution and global warming.

Another benefit, especially for dillliwalas (as and when it arrives in India), will be the elimination of cases of road rage; no more flurry of abuses amidst lethal punches, after all who will you blame, at most you would lodge a complaint at the customer care center. The de-humanization of driving looks charmingly scary.

The ease of travel in a driver-less car cannot be overstated, one can work or relax in a long travel when he or she is not driving, one may be able utilize this time alone to be more creative as they say “Solitude is creativity’s best friend”. Drive-less cars can drastically improve public transport, it would help prioritize the lesser connected areas. The lesser fortunate citizen’s may be given a subsidized travel.

For all its benefits – driver-less cars have a potential of becoming tool of subjugation in a dictatorial regime. There might be a situation where use of private vehicles is completely banned in the cities (Not partial one see odd-even scheme) and one has to use only public transport, thereby effecting the choice of people to travel as autonomous vehicles would travel on a pre decided route. This type of situation is not hard to imagine as presently in China, people are awarded social points based on their travels, whereby their travel is restricted based on the points they have earned. In India also you must have noticed that you have a customer’s rating in Uber and Ola, these cab hailing services keep record of your travels. The AVs have the inbuilt feature that records everything, so Gorge Orwell’s dystopia 1984 may be upon us, because big brother would not only be watching you but may modify your travel plans for you.

Further, the legal implications won’t stop there, legal implications can be many as mentioned above, it will be really difficult to fasten liability in case of an accident. It will be arduous to decide whether the end-user of the vehicle would be liable for the tortuous act or the manufacturer. The situation would get trickier in case of a graver accident, where the victim might be inclined to pursue a criminal case, but since the car is autonomous which means the car is taking the decisions regarding the speed, distance etc. itself, it would be difficult to hold a “robot” accountable criminally.

Science and technology is once again providing us with a revolutionary idea but with large ramifications on fundamental rights and other legal rights. The way forward is to embrace technology, but with caution.

Anyway, now it is time for me to head for work, I better not get stuck in traffic, we still don’t have driverless cars in India.

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