When Piyush Tewari heard that his 16-year-old cousin had been struck and killed by a car while walking home from school in India, he wanted to understand better what had happened, so he went to the scene.
What he found was so disturbing that it prompted him to create an India-based nonprofit and dedicate his life to fighting what has become a worldwide epidemic of road-related injuries and deaths.
This week, the Harvard Global Health Institute joined the fight against road tragedies, partnering with Tewari’s nonprofit, the SaveLIFE Foundation, in an effort to combat global traffic deaths, which took 1.25 million lives in 2013. Such accidents are the leading cause of death for young people age 15‒29.
According to accounts that Tewari gathered, his cousin had been walking home on a clear afternoon and had looked for oncoming traffic before he started across the street. He was hit after he crossed the center line by a speeding driver who’d pulled onto the wrong side of the road to pass other cars. Worse, the driver panicked after the accident, and in his haste to get away ran over Tewari’s cousin a second time.
As badly injured as the boy was at the time, he might have survived if emergency response had been prompt, but bystanders neither tried to help him nor called police. After 45 minutes, the boy died of blood loss.
Instead of just condemning the passersby, Tewari traveled around the country, talking to police, lawyers, victims, and their families. He heard that police investigation of traffic accidents was often pro forma, with blame assigned routinely to the larger vehicle. In addition, he found that bystanders who render assistance may become immersed in the investigations and subsequent legal actions, which can drag on for years. It’s also not unheard of for them to be treated as suspects and blamed.
That realization prompted Tewari, a 2017 Harvard Kennedy School graduate, to spearhead efforts to pass a “Good Samaritan” law, shielding those who offer assistance to people injured in traffic accidents. The now two-year-old law was just a first step, and the organization has embarked on a program to study and analyze traffic accidents on India’s most notorious stretch of highway, the 60 miles between Mumbai and Pune.
Tewari told his story as a keynote speaker at Harvard’s Tsai Auditorium on Monday. The “Road Safety for All: Innovations in Road Traffic Injury Prevention and Response” symposium featured speakers on a host of issues, from ways to make roads safer to the promise and problems of self-driving cars to how to improve emergency response to accidents.
The symposium, sponsored by the Harvard Global Health Institute, the Lakshmi Mittal South Asian Institute, and the SaveLIFE Foundation, opened with comments from Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health Dean Michelle Williams.