Why India Needs The Good Samaritan Law
In the early hours of the morning, 35-year-old Matibool lies on the side of the road, bleeding and fighting for his life. Over the next hour, nearly 140 cars, 82 three-wheelers, 181 bikers and 45 pedestrians cross him, some even pause to look, but no one informs the police. Finally, a man does approach him, only to pocket his mobile phone and walk away.
This incident, captured on CCTV, had taken place in Delhi’s Subhash Nagar on August 10, 2016. By the time help had arrived, over an hour later, Matibool was already dead. This seems to be a recurring pattern when it comes to road accidents in India. Bystanders gather around, vehicles drive by, yet victims languish on our roads for a long time before someone decides to help. A report released by the Law Commission of India in 2006 estimated that nearly 50 per cent of road fatalities would not have happened had medical attention been given within the first hour.
Bystanders are the critical link in ensuring that medical assistance reaches an injured person as swiftly as possible. In fact, the World Health Organisation (WHO) has stated that even the most sophisticated and well equipped pre-hospital trauma care systems, including advanced ambulance services, would be able to do very little if bystanders failed to call for help or provide basic care until help arrived.
So where does the problem lie? Is it that Indians are indifferent to the woes of others or is something else holding us back from helping road accident victims? One of the biggest fears among bystanders is that if they do step forward to call the police or medical services or administer basic first aid, they would get entangled in the police investigations and lengthy legal procedures or even be falsely implicated.
74 per cent of bystanders are unlikely to assist an accident victim, reads a 2013 survey conducted by SaveLIFE Foundation, an NGO which advocates improving road safety and emergency services in the country. 88 per cent of those unlikely to help attributed their reluctance to the fear of police harassment and legal hassles.
Watch: Launch Of NDTV-United Spirits Road To Safety Campaign
The Good Samaritan Guidelines
Recognising the need to allay these fears and nudged by a judgment on a Public Interest Litigation filed in the Supreme Court that called for the “comprehensive protection and insulation from legal hassles of bystanders” who come forward to assist people injured in road accidents, the Ministry of Road Transport and Highways, issued a set of guidelines in 2015. These were called the Bystander and Good Samaritans Guidelines.
Who is a Good Samaritan? An individual who, in good faith, voluntarily gives reasonable assistance to those who are injured in a road accident. This may include calling the police and emergency services, providing first aid or taking the victim to a hospital.
These were then given the “force of law” by the Supreme Court on March 30, 2016, by exercising special powers under Article 141 of the constitution, making them binding on all states and union territories.
In addition to this, Good Samaritans are also promised a reward and in the case the guidelines are not followed, the concerned authorities are to be subject to an internal investigation and disciplinary action. At the district level, the Deputy Commissioner of Police or the Superintendent of Police have been established as the custodians of the Good Samaritan guidelines and will be answerable if anything goes askew, explains Piyush Tewari,
Founder and CEO of the SaveLIFE Foundation. Courts too have been instructed by the Supreme Court judgment to “not normally insist on appearance of Good Samaritans as that causes delay, expenses and inconvenience”
A Long Road Ahead
However, despite these guidelines, awareness remains low.
“The law is quite comprehensive but not many Good Samaritans know their rights and raising awareness about this is a mammoth task ahead of us. It is very critical that the approach to this is consistent,” says Tiwari, “There have been radio campaigns and the government has been running some advertisements.”
For now, the Good Samaritan guidelines have been incorporated in the new Motor Vehicle Bill which was approved by the cabinet in August earlier this year and is currently with the Parliamentary Standing Committee on Transport, Culture and Tourism.
By an Int. Road Safety Specialist
Establishing a road safety plan or road safety strategy is key to achieving the objectives of the UN Decade of Action for Road Safety 2011-2020.
In order to significantly reduce the number of road deaths and serious injuries, it is strongly recommended that the Government of India, States, Police, Transport and Road Authorities:
• Develop and implement integrated and sustainable road safety strategies and comprehensive action plans.
• Set ambitious yet achievable targets to reduce the level of road trauma, say 20% by 2020.
• Urgently strengthen the management structure by involving all concerned Stakeholders in National/State/ District Road Safety Authorities.
• Such Authorities are needed for cooperation, collaboration and coordination.
• Through Institutional strengthening and capacity building, improve technical knowledge and capacity to be able to deliver effective road safety initiatives
• Improve the quality of data, (with exact locations, movement and collision details), as needed to make effective decisions for interventions
• Monitor progress and track performance
• Increase road safety funding and make best use of available resources to maximize road safety benefits.
National and local governments are encouraged to implement activities according to the five pillars of the UN Decade of Action for Road Safety 2011-2020 (To which India has agreed to follow):
• Pillar 1 – Road safety management
• Pillar 2 – Safer roads and mobility
• Pillar 3 – Safer vehicles
• Pillar 4 – Safer road users
• Pillar 5 – Post-crash response
Will someone please make a note of increased use of high beams not only on highways but in cities as well? Much to the apathy of others, drivers don’t bother and continue to flash amid pressure honks!
Three weeks ago in Coimbatore I met with an accident. I was on a royal enfield wearing a helmet having had my license for almost 20 years, with proper paperwork was rammed into by a couple of 16 year olds who doesn’t have license, no helmet nor insurance on their motorcycle. I broke my jaw and right hand. One of the juveniles has a fracture on his hand.
Now get this, police has filed a FIR on me based on a complaint from the other guys unheeding to my plea to look at a CCTV right where the accident occurred. Because usually assumption is people on a larger vehicle are at fault. And they need insurance which my motorcycle had but they didn’t have one for their vehicle.
I cannot eat solid for 2 months, can’t open my mouth, and can’t go to work. Loss of health, loss of pay and loss of confidence in our police. I wish media could do a coverage on my story.