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The rising cases of road crashes have significantly increased the number of deaths around the world. In India, 13 lakh people have been killed due to road crashes in the last decade. Road safety levels have taken a serious hit with the country witnessing one of the highest growth rates of vehicles in the world. It is even more perturbing to know the road crashes caused the death of young people who lie in the productive age group, causing substantial loss of productivity to the nation.
National highways alone claim one life a year for every two kilometres. This is ten times higher than the threshold of developed country. Road crashes also impact the economic growth of a nation, costing the economy between 3-5% of the GDP every year. Therefore, these are some of the major reasons why ‘Good Samaritan law’ must be recognised in India.
As stated by the Ministry of Road Transport and Highways (MoRTH), “Three out of four people in the country are hesitant to help injured road crash victims due to fear of police harassment, detention at hospitals, and prolonged and assumed unnecessary legal formalities.” Even if a person is willing to help an injured in a road crash, these factors stop them from doing so.
It is important to first understanding who a Good Samaritan is before becoming one. Samaritan is a crucial term that most people are unaware of. It means someone who offers help to a person in need without an expectation of reward or recognition. When we look at the term from the perspective of road safety, it means a bystander who selflessly comes to the aid and rescue of victims of road crashes.
SaveLIFE Foundation (SLF), a non-profitable organisation that aims to make roads safer for all road users in India, filed a Public Interest Litigation (PIL) in the Supreme Court in 2012, requesting the Hon’ble Court to safeguard Good Samaritans who come forward to help the injured.
According to a study titled Impediments to Bystander Care in India: National Study on Impact of Good Samaritan Law conducted by the SLF in 2013 in the cities of Delhi, Hyderabad, Kanpur, Ludhiana, Mumbai, Indore and Kolkata, 88% of the people expressed the need for a supportive legal environment for a Good Samaritan; 77% of the people stated that hospitals unnecessarily detained Good Samaritans; 88% of the people were reluctant to help because of the fear of legal hassles, including repeated police questioning and court appearances, all of which further strengthened the need for a Good Samaritan Law.
The critical elements that hinder bystanders’ involvement as first respondents in India below 30 years of age is that 90.3% of them get questioned by the police and have to face legal hassles; 73.5% detained at the hospital have to pay for registration charges; and 48.2% have to bear the transportation cost.
Thereafter, on March 30, 2016, the Supreme Court of India gave “force of law” to the guidelines for the protection of Good Samaritans issued by the MoRTH.
Without getting winded in the setup of an Emergency Medical Services framework, observers and bystanders can assume a vital part in sparing lives. However, in India, they don’t, which is generally out of the dread of police badgering and delayed legal disputes. India is an unfortunate victim of a large number of road crash fatalities because of which a Good Samaritan Law is required to protect them from harassment because of the action taken by them in saving the life of road -rash victims. The law offers legal protection in the form of exemption from lawsuits etc., acting as a safeguard to those who help another in a real emergency which could be a life-or-death situation.
The ‘Rights of a Good Samaritan’ in India include the points mentioned below:
1. In case a bystander has voluntarily stated that he is also an eye-witness to the road-crash, then the State Government shall develop standard operating procedures to ensure that the bystander or Good Samaritan is not harassed during investigation. The hospital shall provide an acknowledgment to such Good Samaritans, confirming that an injured person was brought to the hospital by them. The acknowledgment may be prepared in a standard format by the State Government.
2. A Good Samaritan who informs the police or emergency service regarding an injured person should not be compelled to reveal their personal details.
3. The Good Samaritan will not be liable for any civil or criminal action for any injury or death of the victim.
4. Hospital intervention in cases of road accidents also include attending to the victim with care and giving them immediate treatment without waiting for police to file a case.
5. No incumbency should be imposed upon the Good Samaritan to pay unnecessary charges and costs.
However, there is no legal obligation to provide Good Samaritan care in India.
Having acted as a game-changer for Karnataka in reducing the number of road crash fatalities, the Good Samaritan Bill was drafted two years after the Court asked the state to frame guidelines. It is the first state in India to come out with a legislation for the Good Samaritan Law in order to protect the people who help road crash victims. According to the World Bank, India can reduce road crash fatalities by half in the next 10 years. Therefore, the urge to spread awareness across the country is much needed in order to transform our country to a “Road crash-Free Nation”.