The initial hour following a road crash with casualties is crucial for saving lives and minimising the risk of disabilities. This period is commonly referred to as the "golden hour" or "golden time" in road traffic incidents.
Prompt access to emergency medical services during this critical hour can significantly enhance the chances of survival for the victims. Unfortunately, Bangladesh currently lacks sufficient post-road crash care facilities, particularly in rural and remote areas.
This scarcity of emergency medical services contributes to a rise in the number of fatalities and injuries on the roads. Consequently, victims and their families often face disabilities and financial burdens due to the absence of adequate post-crash care.
Often, it is the nearby residents or passers-by who become the first responders at the scene of a crash. These individuals voluntarily leap into action, doing their best to rescue the passengers from danger, even in the absence of technical knowledge or professional assistance.
They then promptly transport the victims to the nearest government or private hospital. Therefore, passers-by play a crucial role in preventing fatalities and severe injuries in the aftermath of an accident.
Unfortunately, in recent times, it has become increasingly common to witness injured individuals lying on the road while passers-by choose to record the incident with their phones and walk away without offering any assistance to the victims.
The primary reason behind the public's hesitation to intervene immediately is the fear of getting entangled in police questioning, criminal cases, additional hassle, and complex court procedures.
Furthermore, bystanders often face harassment from private hospitals, as these institutions tend to deny admission to patients without immediate payment or without a connection to the person accompanying the victim to the hospital.
Additionally, those who volunteer to help in rescuing victims face the risk of being sued with civil or criminal charges if any harm is inadvertently caused to the victim during the rescue attempt.
This fear of legal repercussions, coupled with potential police involvement, further discourages the public from offering aid to road crash victims, despite their desperate need for assistance and potentially life-saving measures.
That is why a legal framework is crucial to safeguard Good Samaritans from being harmed and to encourage their assistance to victims without fear of negative consequences.
A Good Samaritan refers to an individual who willingly steps forward in good faith to provide immediate assistance or emergency care to a person injured in an accident, crash, or medical emergency, without expecting payment, reward, or assuming any duty of care or special relationship.
Unfortunately, there is currently no law in place to protect Good Samaritans and enable them to aid road crash victims in Bangladesh.
While the Penal Code of 1860 offers indemnity to volunteers who act in good faith without consent for the benefit of a person under Section 92, this provision only provides protection against criminal liability and does not exempt them from civil and other responsibilities.
Therefore, it is necessary to establish a separate law or, at the very least, a separate provision within the Road Transport Act of 2018 to shield Good Samaritans from both civil and criminal liabilities and to impose an obligation on hospitals and clinics to provide emergency healthcare services to the victims.
Globally, Good Samaritan laws are in place to safeguard volunteers who provide reasonable assistance to individuals who are injured, ill, in peril, or otherwise incapacitated in road, rail or air crashes.
These laws have the purpose of encouraging bystanders to help those in need and ensuring that they are protected from harassment by the police, hospitals or any other parties. The laws ensure that selfless rescuers are not held liable for any unintentional acts of negligence, omissions, harm or wrongful death that may occur as a result of their genuine efforts.
An ideal Good Samaritan law includes provisions that prevent the rescuer from being compelled to file a police case at the police station or bear the costs of medical services provided by the hospital.
Furthermore, the law ensures that the Good Samaritan cannot be forced to remain at the hospital or police station. It guarantees that the individual is not obligated to provide personal information, such as their name, address, phone number, or the identity of the victim, even for a medico-legal form.
The Good Samaritan is also not required to provide any other evidence to the police. If the individual voluntarily chooses to participate in the investigation process, their statement will be recorded in a single hearing, and they will not be repeatedly summoned by the police.
Additionally, there should be a provision for the Good Samaritan to lodge complaints against any misconduct by the police or hospital to the relevant authority.
The High Court Division (HCD) has approved the Emergency Medical Services for Road Accident Victims and Protection of Good Samaritans Guidelines, 2018 in the case of Syed Saifuddin Kamal & anr. Vs. Bangladesh & ors., 13 SCOB  HCD.
The court has declared that these guidelines will be considered enforceable until the legislature enacts the necessary law in this regard. This aligns with the stance taken by the Indian Supreme Court in the case of Save Life Foundation and anr. Vs. Union of India and anr. in 2016.
According to the HCD verdict, a Good Samaritan is defined as any bystander and/or passer-by who provides assistance to accident victims. These individuals can play a crucial role in saving lives by either immediately transporting the victims to the hospital or providing immediate lifesaving first aid.
The guidelines impose the responsibility on law enforcement agencies to provide emergency medical care to victims of road, rail or air accidents. It states that if a person injured in a road crash was also involved in the incident, they cannot be harassed or sent to the police station for legal action before receiving emergency medical care.
Additionally, it mandates that the relevant officer of the law enforcement agency should arrange suitable vehicles for road crash victims if an ambulance is not available at the scene to provide emergency medical care.
Currently, the legislature has not made any efforts to establish a law concerning emergency medical services for road accident victims and the protection of Good Samaritans.
Furthermore, the directives provided by the HCD have not been fully implemented. As a result, the number of deaths due to road crashes continues to rise in the country. It is essential for policymakers to prioritise the preservation of lives in this nation.
Therefore, there is an urgent need to comply with the judgement of the HCD and enact a legal framework that ensures the protection of Good Samaritans. This will help instil confidence among the public and encourage them to fearlessly assist victims of road, rail, and air crashes.
Author Bio: The Writer is a Road Safety Law Analyst and an Assistant Professor at the Department of Law, Dhaka International University (DIU).
Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the opinions and views of The Business Standard.