We’re in difficult times when it comes to protecting people on our roads. Since 2009, India has lost over 1.35 million people to road crashes. Ten times as many people have been left seriously injured or permanently disabled. Imagine what that means for our families, our society, and our economy. We have a pandemic on our hands, and a pandemic requires an orchestrated, concerted and persistent response. Goals 3 and 11 of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) clearly highlight this need.
I started SaveLIFE Foundation (SLF) 10 years ago following the loss of my little cousin in a road crash. The 201st report of the Law Commission of India notes that at least half of road fatalities could be averted if the victims received emergency medical care within the first hour of being admitted to a hospital. My cousin was one of those killed despite having treatable injuries. He died in his school uniform waiting for help by the side of the road in front of dozens of bystanders and passers-by. I soon discovered that the bystander inaction in his and most other cases was not driven merely by apathy, as often attributed to them. It was the result of a very profound fear of getting entangled in a legal nightmare. Simply put, there was no guarantee that you will not be harassed or intimidated if you attempted to save a life. The need of the hour was a Good Samaritan Law to insulate lay rescuers from legal and procedural hassles, and that became our immediate ask at SLF. There was resistance, but we persevered. Soon, help came from thousands of families who petitioned their parliamentarians on our behalf, the media (which mainstreamed the issue and our ask), and politicians across party lines, who raised questions in Parliament, introduced private member bills and addressed the media, and finally, the Government of India and the Supreme Court – who worked together on our petition to institute a nationwide Good Samaritan Law (GSL) on 30 March 2016.
Today, we are helping state governments implement the GSL, adopting stretches of Indian highways to save lives through our 360-degree “zero fatality corridor” approach, and advocating for a comprehensive road safety law for India. Since it’s implementation, around 90% of the medical professionals surveyed affirmed that there has been an increase in incidents of Good Samaritans bringing road crash victims to hospitals, and 66% of police officials surveyed confirmed that the number of bystanders’ calls have increased since April 2016.
We are able to do this thanks to the exemplary leadership demonstrated by our team and our partners like Bloomberg Philanthropies, Mahindra & Mahindra, the Volkswagen Group, and many others. Our challenges often also relate to leadership, or the lack of it. The Motor Vehicle (Amendment) Bill, 2017, an upgrade to India’s principle legislation on road safety, failed to pass Parliament earlier this year.
And when it comes to on-ground implementation of laws, lack of leadership is again a significant challenge. Over the course of the next few years, our focus at SLF will be to support the UN and other fellow SDG goalkeepers to build leadership capacity in this area. And our pitch will be fairly simple – if a tiny nonprofit out of New Delhi can do it, so can you!
Piyush Tewari is the Founder & CEO of SaveLIFE Foundation and a World Economic Forum Young Global Leader