NEWS

Without A Good Samaritan Law, Accident Victims Will Die Horrible Deaths On Indian Roads

It's high time.

02/02/2017 1:50 PM IST | Updated 02/02/2017 6:26 PM IST
Paul Liebhardt via Getty Images

What could be said about the reaction of a crowd that gathers around the victim of a road accident, shooting photographs and videos of him lying in a pool of blood instead of rushing him to the nearest hospital? Insensitive; maybe also in a state of shock; but afraid too. Afraid of being asked to pay the admission fees of the injured person at the hospital and, worse still, of being embroiled in police and judicial proceedings that drag forever.

Two horrific incidents in Karnataka in the last few days highlighted the public's apathy or hesitation — call it what you will — in situations where their fellow citizens needed swift help on the road.

On 30 January, Mahesh Kumar, a 38-year-old police officer, died of severe head injuries and blood loss in Mysore as the jeep he was travelling in collided head-on with a bus. The driver of the vehicle, Constable Lakshman, died on the spot, but Kumar's body was trapped in the mangled remains of the metallic frame. As he sought help from the passers-by, some of them stopped, but only to take photographs and videos of him writhing in pain, before moving on.

As he sought help from the passers-by, some of them stopped, but only to take photographs and videos of him writhing in pain, before moving on.

Before the shock of this incident had settled, an 18-year-old boy in Koppal, also in Karnataka, succumbed to his injuries after being hit by another bus. In an uncanny mirroring of the earlier tragedy, people shot videos and photographs of the young man lying in a pool of blood, instead of rushing him to a hospital. By the time he received medical attention, it was all too late.

These twin deaths, in quick succession, have reminded some of another inhuman accident almost a year ago, in which a 24-year-old man in Bengaluru was severed in half after a truck hit the motorcycle he was driving. As he lay on the road screaming in agony and begging for help, those walking by wasted about 20 minutes taking photographs. Before he died, he asked them to ensure his eyes were donated. The story of his posthumous legacy was shared virally on social media, along with photographs of his gory end.

India sees shocking a number of deaths due to road accidents each year. The casualties in 2015 due to such causes ran to 1,46,000.

While its alarming for such deaths to take place anywhere, in Karnataka the public's negligence is strikingly ironic. In November 2016, it became the first Indian state to follow the Supreme Court's directive to form a Good Samaritan Law — The Karnataka Good Samaritan and Medical Professional (Protection and Regulation during Emergency Situations) Bill, to be precise — to persuade more people to step up and help others who are in distress on the road.

India sees shocking a number of deaths due to road accidents each year. The casualties in 2015 due to such causes ran to 1,46,000. At least half of such deaths could have been averted, according to a report by the Law Commission in 2016, had the victims been rushed to the nearest medical facility within an hour of the accident.

But getting an accident victim medical help involves not only admitting them into a casualty ward, which can be an onerous task even in the case of regular medical emergencies, but also answering questions from the police, often followed by mandatory summons to the police stations and the courts. In India, people can hardly be faulted for being wary of having any contact with either the police or the judiciary, which almost always involves enormous expenses — in terms of time, money and peace of mind.

The guidelines recommended by the apex court urge medical establishments, the police and the judiciary to treat good samaritans with respect, dignity, sensitivity and compassion.

Here's where the Good Samaritan Law comes in, intended to protect civilians who step up to help victims of road accidents (rather than victimising them in turn). The guidelines recommended by the apex court urge medical establishments, the police and the judiciary to treat good samaritans with respect, dignity, sensitivity and compassion.

Not only would they be not discriminated against on the grounds of gender, caste, religion or nationality, it will not be necessary for them to reveal their personal details, such as their name or address, in the log record of the police, the directive says.

Most importantly, the good samaritan will have the option to either be a witness or recuse themselves. In the event of their choosing to be a witness, the guidelines specify the steps that need to be followed to ensure that at no point is the good samaritan harassed by the authorities or made to suffer any ignominy for their actions.

For a state that is progressive enough to adopt such a law, Karnataka has clearly not done enough to raise public awareness of it. Just as governments spend resources on promoting road safety, equal efforts should be spent on educating the public about the ways in which the law empowers them to help others in need.

As for the rest of India, the law needs to be passed by all states without any delay.

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