A road accident in Kolkata, India (photo by Biswarup Ganguly)
India is a dangerous place for drivers, passengers, and pedestrians. The latest stats from the World Heath Organization report more than 137,000 traffic fatalities per year, though a study from the Pulitzer Center pegs the actual number above 200,000.
Why is the situation so bad? For starters, cities in India are crowded, making it difficult for cars, trucks, motorcycles, and pedestrians to navigate streets safely. Furthermore, laws requiring the use of seat belts and motorcycle helmets aren’t heavily enforced, nor are there any special laws for child restraints. Complicating matters is the huge number of moving obstacles drivers in India must avoid–namely, cows.
And there’s one more important factor contributing to India’s high fatality rate: a general fear of acting as Good Samaritans. The situation is so bad that one man who lost family members due to the inaction of bystanders created a nonprofit called the SaveLIFE Foundation, which aims to raise awareness about the issue.
And it is, indeed, an issue. In 2013, the Foundation conducted a survey and discovered that a staggering 74 percent of Indians were unwilling to help victims of auto accidents–either by themselves, or working with other Good Samaritans.
Why? There appear to be three reasons:
1. Fear of being blamed for the accident. SaveLIFE founder Piyush Tewari says that police in India often assume that anyone helping crash victims are doing so out of guilt. In other words, the thinking goes, “You’re helping this person, you must’ve caused the collision.”
2. Fear of being forced to pay medical bills for victims. Taking victims to hospitals or even just waiting for ambulances to arrive can result in Good Samaritans being required to fill out reams of paperwork before the injured are treated. Sometimes, that paperwork can obligate helpers to pay for victims’ bills.
3. Fear of being dragged into lengthy court battles. India’s court system isn’t known for its speed or efficiency. Being tapped as a witness in a case can mean years of testimony.
Thanks to the Foundation’s efforts, however, last year India’s Supreme Court issued guidelines to protect Good Samaritans. Among other things, these guidelines:
- Protect Good Samaritans from criminal or civil liability
- Allow Good Samaritans to act anonymously when reporting auto accidents
- Prohibit hospitals from demanding extensive paperwork or payment from Good Samaritans
- Demand that doctors treat crash victims immediately in emergency situations
- Minimize the amount of time that Good Samaritans may be interrogated during court trials and allow for videoconferencing when doing so
Which is all well and good, but now comes the tough work of getting India’s many states, territories, and hospitals to adopt the Supreme Court’s guidelines–and then adhere to them.
[EDITOR’S NOTE: The Car Connection thanks our tipster, who prefers to remain an International Man of Mystery.]