John & Paula Oliver
Ethnos360
How to Drive in Indonesia
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  • Copyright © 2017, J & P Oliver
    Last Updated on August 25, 2017
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    Have you ever driven in a foreign country? It can be interesting.

    In Indonesia, for example, most folks don't drive on the right side of the road; if they do, it can be risky because of all the oncoming traffic.

    Most folks don't drive on the right side of the 
      road

    I also noticed that while there are indeed quite a few cars on the road, the roads seem to really belong to the motorbikes.

    The roads seem to belong to the motorbikes.

    Most families can't afford a car, so the 100-125 cc motorbike is the family transportation; literally, you can see a family of 3, 4, or even 5 people squeezed onto a motorbike seat.

    Families ride together on their motorbike. Families ride together on their motorbike. Families ride together on their motorbike.

    To operate a motor vehicle in Indonesia, you must understand the transportation terminology in an entirely different way.  As you observe the traffic, definitions that you thought were above redefinition will immediately be redefined. 

    The following definitions have been created to reflect actual usage, as seen in action on the roads of Indonesia:

    THE ROAD

    In Indonesia, the Road includes not only the paved portion of the highway, but also what others might call the verge, the curb, the sidewalk, the front yard and the roadside restaurant.  The paved portion of the roadway is generally one lane wide (not one lane in each direction, but one lane).

    LIGHTS

    Rapidly blinking the headlights can mean many things, including:

    • “OK to pass now”

    • “Dangerous to pass now”

    • “Get out of the way”

    • “May you find the thread of gold in the linen of existence”

    It takes years, sometimes entire lifetimes, to learn this subtle and intriguing intuitive nonverbal communication skill.  Generally, however, you have about three seconds.

    THE HORN

    When sounded loudly and frequently, the horn sets up an invisible energy barrier protecting the vehicle and its occupants from all harm.  The faster the vehicle is going, the better the horn works.  This is the central concept of Indonesian motoring.

    LANES

    These colorful white and yellow markings wish a hearty “Selamat Datang”, or “Welcome”, to every traveler.  They serve no other function.

    Lanes?

    SEATBELTS

    In Indonesia, seatbelts are absolutely unnecessary.  In fact, not only are they not worn; they are not even provided.  Passengers are fully protected by the horn.

    PASSING

    The national sport of Indonesia.  Observant motorists may encounter:

    • the Squeeze (mostly attempted by motorbikes, squeezing between two vehicles),

    • the Vertical Triple (passing three vehicles in one acceleratory movement),

    • the Horizontal Double (passing a vehicle that itself is in the process of passing a vehicle), or even

    • the rare Double-Double (passing a vehicle at precisely the same time that another vehicle, coming in the other direction, is also engaged in the act of passing).

    A motorbike attempt to execute a squeeze pass.

    TAILGATING

    What to do when not passing.

    ACCIDENTS

    Accidents can happen, but they are usually the result of a malfunctioning horn.