Guidelines for the Protection of Good Samaritans or First Responders

Dr. Suhas Bijjur, Consultant - Critical Care & Emergency Medicine, Gleneagles Global Hospital Gleneagles Global Hospital is, a part of Parkway Pantai Enterprise, a leading international premium healthcare provider with its most advanced treatments & state-of-the-art infrastructure offers a wide range of tertiary & quaternary healthcare services.

Onlookers are not willing to help trauma victims due to the fear of being involved in the police case. To tackle the problem Supreme Court of India has given a clear direction to protect Good Samaritans from such outcomes. Has such direction from the court encouraged people to come forward and help the victims during Emergency situation?

There was an ancient saying ‘All roads lead to Rome’. Now, there is a saying in India ‘All roads lead to either hell or heaven’. According to the Ministry of Road Transport and Highways, 150,785 people were killed and 494,624 were injured in 480,652 road crashes in India in the year 2016. Road crash fatalities has scaled-up by three percent in the last one year(from 146,133 in 2015 to 150,785 in 2016)and accident severity increased from 29.1 in 2015 to 31.4 in 2016. The number of fatal accidents has increased consistently since 2005 and saw a sharp rise.

Accident victims die of negligence, more so in developing countries like India,where emergency response effort is in scarce. Victims are not shifted to hospitals immediately. Golden hour is lost by apathetic crowd. Even when a victim is shifted to the hospital, most often the government hospitals, will not have qualified resuscitative team of Doctors. In nutshell, outcome in road traffic accidents speak volumes about the bad governance and immature democracy.

However, in March 2016,the Supreme Court approved the guidelines issued by the Centre for the protection of Good Samaritans or first responders at the hands of the police or any other authority. Relevant points are stated in the Supreme Court judgement of Save life Foundation vs Union of India are:

1. The bystander or Good Samaritan shall not be liable for any civil and criminal liability.
2. A bystander or Good Samaritan, who makes a phone call to inform the police or emergency services for the person lying injured on the road, shall not be compelled to reveal his name & personal details on the phone or in person.

3. The disclosure of personal information, such as name & contact details of the Good Samaritan shall be made voluntary and optional, including in the Medico Legal Case(MLC)Form provided by hospital.

4. The disciplinary or departmental action shall be initiated by the Government concerned against public officials who coerce or intimidate a bystander or Good Samaritan for revealing his name or personal details.

5. In case a bystander or good Samaritan, who has voluntarily stated that he is also an eye-witness to the accident and is required to be examined for the purposes of investigation by the police or during the trial, such bystander or Good Samaritan shall be examined on a single occasion and the State Government shall develop standard operating procedures to ensure that bystander or Good Samaritan is not harassed or intimidated.

"Morality & Responsibility are individual traits that can only be inculcated at a tender age. A guideline or rule, at most may complement, but cannot initiate requisite action from an individual"

Inspite of the judgement from Supreme Court, there has been a marginal improvement in attending accident victims by lay public. Most often it’s the government ambulance and police who initiate the process of shifting the victims to hospitals. Participation of the civil society is more of obstructive in nature in terms of resuscitation than involvement. Viral video of Harish, who met with fatal accident on outskirts of Bangalore stands as testimony to the cold shoulders thrown by our society. Subsequently, Govt. of Karnataka had issued warnings to apathetic bystanders.

‘Victim untouchability’ has roots in our Indian psyche and culture. This behaviour can be understood by the Diffusion of Responsibility, theory proposed by Bibb Latane & John Darley. The theory states that,“greater number of bystanders in an emergency situation, the smaller the share of the responsibility each person feels - and the less likely any single person will come forward to help and less likely the help will be given to a victim”.

While the apex court has done with its share of responsibility, larger part rests with the civil society. How many of us own-up the responsibility to help an accident victim? Though our education system claims to impart moral values, output of such system less than encouraging. Morality & Responsibility are individual traits that can only be inculcated at a tender age. A guideline or rule, at most may complement, but cannot initiate requisite action from an individual. In a society that’s driven more by materialistic need than the socialistic goals, placement of incentives might work in favor of accident victims. Incentives need not be financial alone. Media can take an active role in celebrating the helping hands.

It makes more sense to prevent an accident than to render the help later. Fortunately, as per the new Motor Vehicle Act 2018,there has been steep to increase in the punishment for violation of traffic rules. This has been passed to enhance the importance of road safety. However, as usual, how this act will be executed in tooth & nail by state governments to benefit the road safety is worth waiting.