Indian Supreme Court ruling enforces Good Samaritan guidelines on road crashesRolex Young Laureate Piyush Tewari with MP Kirron Kher in New Delhi.
The Indian Supreme Court ruling that enforces the Good Samaritan guidelines in all states and territories has received a warm welcome across the nation. The ruling is seen as a major turning point in the campaign to reduce the nation’s crippling road death toll.
“The judgment of the honourable Supreme Court of India in the public interest petition filed by SaveLIFE Foundation is great news for India,” said Dr Shashi Tharoor, a member of the national parliament and a former minister. “Bystanders and passers-by can play a crucial role in saving lives of injured persons on the road, but traditionally in India they have been hesitant to do so for fear of legal and procedural hassles. This judgment effectively provides India a Good Samaritan Law, which will create a supportive environment for those who assist the injured. I congratulate SaveLIFE Foundation for achieving success in a cause that I have fully supported.”
Protection from hassles
Kirron Kher, a member of parliament, said, “The Government of India has demonstrated great political will and commitment by issuing guidelines for Good Samaritan protection. The Supreme Court judgment, in fact, puts a seal on them by giving them a force of law, which is historic in its own merits. For the first time in India, there is a policy for protection from procedural hassles for those who help the injured. SaveLIFE Foundation’s efforts for creating a protective framework for Good Samaritans have helped us get here. I am proud to have helped SaveLIFE raise this issue in the Parliament of India.”
A government minister, Venkaiah Naidu, was also among those who announced the ruling on twitter. jai Chowdhry, co-founder of HCL, one of the world’s leading information technology companies, and winner of the Padma Bhushan, described the Supreme Court decision as a “path-breaking moment for India“.
He added, “For decades, citizens have been hesitant to help each other for fear of legal and procedural hassles. Not anymore. This feat of SLF [SaveLIFE Foundation] will ensure that there are no more victims on the road begging for help, but not getting any. Now, we all need to come together to ensure that this law is effectively communicated and implemented.”
Tewari himself described the court’s ruling as “a big day for India“, one that had the potential to save at least 500,000 lives over the next decade.
159,000 road deaths
“India suffers 150,000 road crash deaths a year, the highest number in the world and, in the absence of emergency medical services, many lives that could be saved are lost – as many as 50 per cent, according to our research,” he said. “Bystanders and passers-by can play a life-saving role in these situations. But, because of legal repercussions, police intimidation and the possibility of being forced to pay the costs, they tend not to help.”
“Until [the ruling] most states were treating the guidelines merely as an advisory,” he said, “but now non-compliance will be treated as contempt of court, making these guidelines as good as a law. The onus is on state governments and union territories to ensure implementation of these guidelines.”
Tewari’s crusade to reverse India’s appalling road safety record began with his own personal tragedy. In 2008, he set up SaveLIFE after his 17 year-old cousin died as a result of a road accident. His cousin lay on a busy road unaided for more than 40 minutes before he died, despite asking bystanders for help.
Tewari said it was widely acknowledged that receiving medical help within the first ‘golden hour’ after a major accident greatly increased the chance of survival. His research across India to determine why many bystanders were unwilling to help pinpointed the potential legal and financial repercussions of contacting the police, while some people said police believed witnesses were responsible for accidents.
SaveLIFE has grown rapidly since Tewari won his Rolex Award in 2010. The team now comprises 18 full-time staff, supported by up to 10 interns from law and public-policy schools, and more than 3,000 volunteers across 10 Indian states. The foundation’s coalition of supporters includes high-profile national figures and international organizations, such as Bloomberg Philanthropies and the Global Road Safety Partnership.
Tewari and his team have worked doggedly to convince a previously reluctant government that laws governing road safety were in desperate need of overhaul. Their advocacy campaign, which continues, resulted in strong media coverage, questions being raised in India’s parliament, a petition signed by 100,000 people delivered to the health minister and a private member’s bill questioning the government’s stand.
Tewari’s formula of encouraging police officers and the general public to assist road accident victims has also proved highly effective. In Delhi, where he launched his project, deaths from road accidents dropped by 30 per cent between 2010 and 2014 – from 2,325 to 1,600. “Measuring impact is key to our activities,” he said.
The foundation is also working closely with state governments. It has collaborated with the government of Maharashtra, for example, to adopt 100 km of highway where an average 150 deaths occur annually. “Our aim is to bring deaths down to zero by 2020,” Tewari said. “Similar interventions are taking place in various other parts of the country. And victims are getting rapid care from police and volunteers.”
Going forward, Tewari is keen for businesses to take a leading role in Save LIFE’s activities. As part of this push, the foundation held a conference in April on the role companies can play in improving road safety inIndia.
“The government, while trying to act to improve road safety, has limited resources,” Tewari said.
“Industry, on the other hand, has resources and reach. The Good Samaritan guidelines will only be effective if people know they have these rights. We want to ensure this word reaches the very last mile of India.”
The Rolex Awards for Enterprise were created in 1976 to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the Rolex Oyster chronometer, the world’s first waterproof watch. Since then, Rolex has granted 130 monetary Awards to individuals, implementing projects in more than 60 countries.
In 2009, Rolex launched a programme for Young Laureates, to fund young pioneers (ages 18-30) and their innovative projects. The programme rewards bright new ideas and encourages the next generation to meet the challenges of the future. – PRNewswire