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.
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.