Most doctors in the emergency care units of the Indian capital Delhi’s state-run hospitals know Suraj Prakash Vaid. The 66-year-old former taxi driver is called “the man of the Golden Hour”.
The term refers to the 60 minutes immediately after a potentially fatal accident. What happens to a casualty during that time is vital to their chances of survival.
For over three decades, Mr Vaid has rushed victims of traffic accidents to different city hospitals when other bystanders merely stood and watched.
“I have saved 92 people to date. I have registered accident cases with the police, appeared in court as an eyewitness and safeguarded victims’ valuables until their next of kin arrived,” he told the BBC.
According to India’s Law Commission, 50% of road deaths in the country could have been avoided if victims had received medical attention within the first 60 minutes after the accident.
But a survey by SaveLife Foundation, a road safety advocacy group, found that 74% of Indian bystanders refused to assist road accident victims, with the majority citing legal hassles, repeated police questioning and long waits at hospitals as reasons for not getting involved.
Mr Vaid answers calls of distress on his battered old mobile phone. Armed with a first aid kit, he travels by scooter to beat traffic snarls.
Over the years, his reputation for helping victims of accidents has spread so wide that Delhi’s taxi drivers’ and auto-rickshaw drivers’ associations have his mobile number and call him when they hear about an accident. Even his car has his phone numbers written on it, urging people to call in case of an accident or trauma.
Often auto-rickshaw and taxi drivers and local people call him, or send images of accidents to his son’s mobile phone.
“I know the importance of the Golden Hour. When I reach the accident site, I take charge and direct people to call the police or the ambulance,” he said.
“If there’s a delay in getting an ambulance because of traffic, I put the victim in an auto-rickshaw or a passing car. Once the driver of the vehicle knows that I am accountable for the victim and will deal with the police and the hospital staff, they are ready to help.”
Several times he has had to stay away from home the whole night to complete medico-legal formalities after admitting accident victims to hospitals.
In May last year, India’s Supreme Court ruled that “Good Samaritans” would be protected from harassment.
Mr Vaid works with truck drivers and taxi drivers’ associations to raise awareness of the need to help accident victims and inform them about the new law.
His parents were refugees from Pakistan who lost their home and livelihood, forcing him to take up taxi driving after dropping out of school in the ninth grade.
Mr Vaid started a tourist taxi service in partnership with his friend in 1986. When he was 24, he saw a car crash. He says he managed to rush the victims to the hospital and vowed then not to turn away from traffic accident sites.
Lawyers and judges have appreciated his efforts to turn up in court whenever he is named as a witness in an accident case. He says it is something he doesn’t mind doing as he feels it is a small price to pay for saving a life.
The city police have given him certificates and cash prizes, and the government has also given him a road safety awareness award.
“We have recognised his courage and selfless service to help accident victims. His meticulous diary entries have helped us nab culprits of hit-and-run cases. We need more Good Samaritans like him to raise awareness against dangerous driving and help those in distress,” Brajesh Singh, a senior traffic police official, told the BBC.
Over the years, Mr Vaid has maintained a file of photocopies of police complaints that he has lodged in accident cases as well as medico-legal certificates from city hospitals that mention his name for bringing in accident victims.
“People are usually helpful but wait around for someone else to take the lead. Police, hospital staff and doctors have always been of immense help. They know me by name.”
A BBC series Unsung Indians profiled people who are working to improve the lives of others. More from the series:
“I am not hungry for recognition by the government nor am I looking for funds to help me buy a vehicle or medicine for the injured,” he said.
“Even victims don’t remember me or contact me after they are discharged from hospitals. I don’t look back. I do what I have to and will continue this until I die.”
But not everyone has forgotten Mr Vaid’s timely help.
Satish and Mina Hari from Canada still keep in touch with him, 25 years after he helped save four members of their family from a fatal car crash with an army truck in Rajasthan’s Ajmer district.
Mr Vaid drove 65km (40 miles) with five critically injured army personnel and five members of the Hari family to the army hospital in Jaipur.
The family of Suresh Sharma, a railway employee, who was hit by a car as he was crossing a road, is also in regular touch with Mr Vaid. He not only took Mr Sharma to the hospital but got the driver to pay him compensation.
Mr Vaid also carries a few metres of an ochre-coloured cloth in his first aid kit to cover female accident victims, as curious onlookers often take pictures of them at accident sites.
“No woman should lie around naked on the street, bleeding and pleading for help. I make sure I cover a lady with the cloth as she is vulnerable when injured or unconscious,” said Mr Vaid.
“Police should prosecute those who take images of accident victims and there must be public outcry against such insensitivity”.