In a country where one person dies every four minutes in a road accident, rescuer-friendly laws assume great significance.
Recently, the Supreme Court issued new guidelines, paving the way to protect rescuers from getting entangled in a legal web. The guidelines, hope medical experts, will now encourage bystanders to step forward and save lives. According to the National Crime Record Bureau (NCRB) data on road traffic accidents, 3,380 Indians die in road accidents daily, a figure equivalent to casualties arising out of a jet crash.
Over the past decade, 11.32 lakh Indians have been killed in road accidents, and 53 lakh people have been seriously injured or disabled.
In Delhi alone, an average of five people die, and hundreds break their bones, every day in road accidents.
With road accidents emerging as one of the leading causes of deaths in India, health experts have now begun to refer to them as a 'modern-day epidemic'.
Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI), as it is called in medical terms, is fatal in most cases, say medical experts. For those who manage to survive, life is a huge struggle. Most get paralysed either neck or waist down, affecting their livelihood and well-being.
Also, of all the road traffic accident victims, nearly 50% incur a head injury.
One out of every six victims of a road accident dies of a head injury due to lack of medical assistance received in the 'golden hour', which is the first hour of the accident, when chances of survival are the maximum.
The All India Institute of Medical Sciences (AIIMS) trauma centre, the largest standalone trauma care centre in India, gets about 150 accident cases daily, of which 70% are head injury cases.
"Most accident victims sustain severe head injuries that are fatal, or even if a person survives it may result in life-long paralysis," says Dr Deepak Aggarwal, a senior neurosurgeon at AIIMS' trauma centre.
Additionally, alcohol also increases the severity of an injury incurred in a road accident. "The outcome of treatment in drunken patients is not as good when compared with non-drinkers," adds Dr Aggarwal.
Experts also contend that pillion riders, mostly women, tend to incur severe injuries during a road accident.
According to AIIMS director Dr MC Misra, of all the victims at their trauma centre in a year, 90% are men and 10% are women.
"If we talk about head injury, 70% are men and 30% are women, of which nearly 50% are those who were not wearing helmet while riding pillion," he says.
Another cause of concern, according to medical experts, is that often road accident victims slip into a vegetative state.
"Some patients don't have a family. At times, even those who do cannot remember their backgrounds because of a head injury," says Dr Misra.
"Such patients cannot be discharged. And keeping them back means occupying beds that may otherwise be used for critical patients."
To tackle this situation, doctors recommend the establishment of government run rehabilitation homes for victims.
"You won't need specialised care in such rehabilitation homes. Basic nursing is what they require," says Dr Sumit Ray, vice-chairman at the department of critical care medicine at Delhi's Ganga Ram Hospital. "Besides, it's important to move them from the hospital because there's a risk of developing secondary infections."
The key to prevent road accidents, however, is in the strengthening of our laws and ensuring that both motorists and pedestrians follow rules.
Critical care experts also insist on expanding our existing ambulance network, especially on the highways.
According to Dr Ray, we need an ambulance facility every 20 km to 25 km, and a trauma care facility every 50 km to 100 km. "Many lives can be saved by merely putting the person on a basic ventilator, with an IV drip that can be administered even by a paramedic trained in life support," he says.