Traffic and Road Conditions in Indonesia

Traffic Safety and Road Conditions

There has been a rapid rise in all manners of public and private transportation within Indonesia. New private airlines have begun operations over the past several years, as have new bus and ferry lines. Air, ferry, and road accidents resulting in fatalities, injuries, and significant damage are common. Indonesia experienced several fatal plane crashes and non-fatal runway overruns in 2011. Additionally, several ferry accidents and a train collision resulted in dozens of fatalities and even more injuries, due to over-crowding and unsafe conditions. Indonesia continues to hold a category 2 safety rating after the Federal Aviation Administration lowered the rating in March 2007.

While all forms of transportation are ostensibly regulated in Indonesia, oversight is spotty, equipment tends to be less well maintained than that operated in the United States, amenities do not typically meet Western standards, and rescue/emergency response is notably lacking. Travelers by boat or ferry should not board before confirming that adequate personal floatation devices are provided. Ferries are frequently overcrowded and lack basic safety equipment, and there have been a number of ferry sinkings resulting in loss of life.

While in Indonesia, U.S. citizens may encounter road conditions that differ significantly from those in the United States. Traffic in Indonesia is highly dangerous, congested, and undisciplined. Traffic signals are frequently ignored and often in disrepair. The number and variety of vehicles on the road far exceed the capacity of existing roadways. Road conditions vary from good (in the case of toll roads and major city roads) to dangerously poor. Generally, road safety awareness is very low in Indonesia. Buses and trucks are often dangerously overloaded and travel at high speeds. Most roads outside major urban areas have a single lane of traffic in each direction, making passing dangerous. Most Indonesian drivers do not maintain a safe-following distance in a manner familiar to U.S. drivers and tend to pass or maneuver with considerably less margin for error than in the United States. Although traffic in Indonesia moves on the left side of the road, drivers tend to pass on both sides and may use the shoulder for this purpose. It is common for drivers to create extra lanes regardless of the lane markings on the roads. Nails are frequently sprinkled on roads to cause punctures and create business for tire-repair services.

Throughout Indonesia, there is an overabundance of motorcycles claiming the right of way. Many motorcycle drivers weave recklessly in and out of traffic with complete disregard for traffic regulations and simple safety precautions. Throughout the country, motor vehicles share the roads with other forms of transportation such as pedicabs, horse and ox carts, pushcarts, and domestic animals such as cows, sheep, and goats.

Indonesia requires the use of seat belts in front seats; most Indonesian automobiles do not have seat belts in the rear passenger seats. The use of infant and child car seats is uncommon, and it can be very difficult to rent a car seat. Helmets are required for all motorcycle passengers, the laws for which are inconsistently enforced. Passengers often do not wear helmets. Accidents on rented motorcycles constitute the largest cause of death and serious injury among foreign visitors to Indonesia. Given the poor quality of emergency services, an injury considered to be minor in the United States might result in greater bodily harm in Indonesia.

Accidents between a car and a motorcycle are invariably viewed as the fault of the driver of the car. Groups of motorcycle riders will sometimes threaten the driver of a car who is involved in an accident regardless of who is at fault. Expatriates and affluent Indonesians often use professional drivers. All car rental firms provide drivers for a nominal additional fee. Travelers unfamiliar with Indonesian driving conditions are strongly encouraged to hire drivers from reputable companies and recommendations.

Driving at night can be extremely dangerous outside of major urban areas. Drivers often refuse to use their lights until it is completely dark, and most rural roads are unlit. Sometimes residents in rural areas use road surfaces as public gathering areas, congregating on them after dark.

When an accident involving personal injury occurs, Indonesian law requires both drivers to await the arrival of a police officer to report the accident. Although Indonesian law requires third party insurance, most Indonesian drivers are uninsured, and even when a vehicle is insured, it is common for insurance companies to refuse to pay damages. Nevertheless, foreigners who plan to drive while in Indonesia should ensure they have appropriate insurance coverage and a valid driver's license. Ambulance service in Indonesia is unreliable, and taxis or private cars are often used to transport the injured to a medical facility. In cases of serious injury to a pedestrian, the driver of the vehicle could be required to help transport the injured person to the hospital. When an accident occurs outside a major city, it may be advisable, before stopping, to drive to the nearest police station to seek assistance.

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