Legal protection to Good Samaritans not enough, need to raise awareness

Published on Jan 23, 2020 10:01 PM IST
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New Delhi

The Motor Vehicles (Amendment) Act, 2019 may have a whole separate section on legally protecting Good Samaritans who play an important role in rushing road accident victims to hospitals, but road safety experts say that it will have little impact on the mindset and attitude of people unless there is full compliance of the law and proper awareness.

A survey conducted last year by an NGO working towards road safety revealed that while nearly 85% of respondents in Delhi were willing to help accident victims if they were not harassed, the city hospitals asked 77% of them for their personal details and 72% of them were not allowed to immediately leave the hospitals after admitting the injured.

This, Piyush Tewari, whose NGO SaveLife Foundation conducted the survey, says, discourages people from helping road accident victims, for many of who the “golden hour” is the difference between life and death.

According to the Law Commission of India, 50% of those killed in road accidents could have been saved if quick help was provided. The World Health Organisation (WHO) too notes that half of all road accident victims die in the first 15 minutes of the road collision.

Over the past few years, about 1,600 persons have been killed in road accidents in Delhi. Another 7,000 escaped with injuries.

The new law, enacted August 2019, says that a Good Samaritan “shall not be liable for any civil or criminal action for any injury or death of the victim of an accident involving a motor vehicle, where such injury or death resulted from the Good Samaritan’s negligence in acting or failing to act while rendering emergency medical or non-medical care or assistance”.

Before this, the Supreme Court in 2016 had approved the guidelines issued by the Ministry of Road Transport and Highways in dealing with Good Samaritans. “The guidelines mandated that a Good Samaritan could not be detained by a hospital, they could not be forced by the police to be eyewitnesses and that if someone wanted to be an eyewitness, their examination be done in a single sitting,” says Tewari.

The guidelines also required the charter of rules to be displayed prominently at hospitals and police stations, he said. “But when we surveyed police stations in hospitals and police stations in Delhi, we found very little compliance,” he says.

Shaleen Mitra, Officer on Special Duty (OSD) to Delhi Health Minister Satyendar Jain, said that the Delhi government is in a partnership with the NGO and implementing everything that is mandated.

Earlier in June 2018, Mitra said, the Delhi government had launched the ‘Good Samaritan Policy’ that would reward Good Samaritans with 2,000 cash as “token of appreciation” and guarantee them that they would not be troubled by the police. The policy also promises free transfer to these victims at Delhi’s hospitals.

“Since then, about 4,500 victims of road accidents, fire and acid attacks have been helped,” said Mitra, adding that only 98 such Good Samaritans applied for cash awards and 11 of them refused the money.

Tewari described that the Delhi government’s policy as an “encouraging step” towards saving road accident victims. “The government must go further ahead and train the hospital staff and the police in ensuring a complete compliance of all laws pertaining to Good Samaritans,” he said.

Before the Delhi government moved to implement this policy, which was renamed ‘Farishtey Dilli Ke’ in October 2019, an analysis of all accident victims who were brought to AIIMS trauma centre in Delhi revealed that only 1% of them were helped by Good Samaritans. About 70% either visited the hospital on their own or with their relatives while most others were helped by the police.

A senior police officer said the staff of the Police Control Room (PCR) is trained in giving cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR) to accident victims and advised to ensure no delay in rushing victims to hospitals. “The PCR staff is sensitised to the importance of the ‘golden hour’ since they are on the road most of the times and are often the first respondents,” said the officer.

The officer acknowledged that the police needed to do more to ensure that the Good Samaritans are not harassed with legal issues, but many police personnel see them as important eyewitnesses for investigations that often follow these accidents. “It will take a while before all police personnel understand the priority of saving lives over investigations,” said the officer.

Mandeep Singh Randhawa, Delhi Police spokesperson, said the police have been frequently rewarding Good Samaritans, be it from the police force or general public. “Every policeman in Delhi is briefed about the importance of Good Samaritans and how to follow the law pertaining to them,” Randhawa said.

Rohit Baluja, Director of Institute of Road Traffic Education, says while the importance of ‘golden hour’ and the role of Good Samaritans cannot be undermined, it must not serve as an excuse to allow the government to wash its hands off the responsibility of ensuring quick treatment of accident victims.

“The problem is that the general public is not trained in saving lives. That requires specialised help and it is the government’s job to ensure that,” says Baluja.

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