My Dutch partner has never felt comfortable driving in Indonesia, even though he is an excellent driver back in his country. So when we are together, the driving job would be my forte because as an Indonesian I am used to this hell we call Indonesian traffic. He did go with me on a long road trip from West Java to Bali last year, so he knows traffic and driving in Indonesia firsthand, and after years and years of coming to Indonesia he still doesn’t feel better about it.

You can buy an indonesian drivers license, no lessons needed, is common perception here

The problem with this is simple, not many people seem to understand traffic regulations in this country and so, there is no certainty that things would happen following a certain procedure when a traffic incident or accident occurs. Besides the unclear regulations, it is also common knowledge that a lot of people buy their driver’s license without taking any actual lessons, because it’s cheap and easy to do. You can get a regular driver’s license for $30, valid for 5 years, and if you use a middleman to help you, add 50% commission to the cost.

  1. People buying their driver’s license means there are many people out there who might not be fit to drive. They might hide their medical record which could have prevented them from obtaining a license.A few years ago a driver with epilepsy got a seizure while driving and ended up hitting a group of runners who were jogging a track. There was uproar because people with certain disabilities shouldn’t be allowed to drive for exactly this reason. There was an investigation on how the driver could have obtained his driver’s license, but there was not really a closure on the case.
  2. People buying their driver’s license means there are many people out there who might not even understand helmets or tail lights are mandatory, or that when you want to turn left, you have to turn your left blinker on; or that tailgating is a reckless endangerment and if the car in front of you brakes suddenly to avoid collision and you bump into their rear end it will be your fault; etc.

I am sure people who drive on regular basis can relate to this very well.

Lack of clear traffic rules in Indonesia

If you asked many Indonesians about “the right of way” I am sure not many people can answer you properly. Don’t believe me? Just try it.

Indonesians use a lot of expressions, signals, and reading other people’s movements out of habit. When we are stuck in an intersection without traffic light and there are vehicles coming from several different directions, people who go first or wave their hands or give a light signal get the way, instead of people coming from the left or right side.

For us it’s common and we understand each other very well, and it looks almost like mind reading to those who are not used to it. Foreigners who drive here and are thinking of using the “right of way” would be confused and think the traffic in Indonesia is like a jungle.

The crazy things and people on the road

Now, imagine driving in a jungle-like traffic, surrounded by drivers and riders who are likely buying their driver’s licenses and unintentionally drive recklessly just because they don’t know the rules, add some drunk or drugged drivers every now and then to the mix, or crazy bus drivers who think the road is their fathers property and shove people out of the way using their big ass buses; you sometimes will also meet some underage kids on scooters.. say, as young as 8 years old, without helmet; oh, please don’t forget ladies on scooters with two kids behind them and a baby on their lap. Another annoying one is impatient car drivers behind you, who would abuse their high beams and tail-gate you to inches; my other favourite is super slow trucks with overloaded rocks taken from the mountain on the fast lane, and you are trying so hard to overtake that thing and dodge the rocks from falling to your window, and almost got heart attack when the truck hit a deep pothole….

That is already a scary thing to go through, right?

Now, imagine driving with your mind completely alert on dodging these people and objects, but one reckless or even drunk scooter driver without helmet could still manage to hit your car and he dies, how would you handle the situation?

Dodging scooters

I personally have had scooters hit my car and they fell to the ground. One was an older man and two passengers, a young girl and a very old woman. None of them wore helmets. It was a very heavy traffic, my speed between 5-10kph, and I was turning left and had already turned on my left blinker from meters before. He still insisted to overtake me from the left to go straight and was on my blind spot when I was turning left.

They fell but luckily didn’t get hurt. I panicked and quickly pulled over. I scolded the man for endangering his family’s lives, and after making sure they were OK, I moved on. Other cases were almost identical to it. I was never on the wrong and lucky none of them were badly hurt, but I don’t know what would happen if they are hurt or dead, even though it’s their fault that caused the accident.

I have heard that it’s common knowledge here that when there is an accident between cars and scooters, scooter riders always win, even though they are at fault. That is a very scary thing to think about and as an Indonesian driver, I’m sometimes scared that the same thing would happen to me someday, paying the price for someone else’s mistake.

To be honest, traffic in Bali is so much better than the rest of Indonesia. I have been driving all over Java, some remote islands in Maluku, Sumatra, and been to Sulawesi too. It is also one of the reasons I moved to Bali, the traffic doesn’t get on my nerves so much, even though compared to many other countries it is still a dreadful experience to many.

Getting into an accident

A few weeks ago I read a post about a female Indonesian driver, who hit a drunk scooter driver in Mengwi area. It reads like this:

“On Christmas eve friends of mine were driving through Mengwi, on the outskirts of Denpasar. He is English, his fiancé is Indonesian. On this day she was driving. She has a full Indonesian license, the car is 100% legal. Suddenly a scooter smashed into their car. The male driver was drunk, and had neither license nor helmet. He was rushed to hospital, she was arrested, even though she was clearly in the right. But, she had a foreigner in the car.

She was taken to Mengwi police station, her fiancé was told to find tens of millions of rupiah, not so easy in a foreign country at Christmas. The more he found, the more they wanted. The family of the, by now, dead man refused to sign her release papers until they had their money. Once he had died the amount shot up. Up until last night it stood at 80 million plus solicitors fees.

If he hadn’t been in the car his fiancé would never have been arrested. This is the worst corruption you’ll find, and to make it worse, she is pregnant. Today makes seven days she has been locked up, for committing no crime whatsoever, but purely as a hostage to her fiancé’s extortion, sanctioned by the police and court, who will all get a cut. So think twice before you drive, as a foreigner you cannot win.”

Reading the post scared the shit out of me. Not only that I am a female driver who often has a western passenger on my car, but also given the fact that most people assume scooter drivers should always win.

Who is guilty?

Now, you might think what happened if both vehicles are scooters? OK, I also read a case of an Australian man, named Joshua Terelinck who was involved in a motorbike crash in Bali and ended up killing the other rider, a young Balinese who was drunk at that time. Despite having paid for $6000 settlement to the family who agreed not to press charges, he was still tried and sentenced to 2.5 months in prison. Many people say, when there is an accident between two vehicles, regardless of who was guilty, if it’s between car and scooter, than scooter wins. If it’s between scooters, than whoever dies win. Odd, isn’t it?

I tried to insist that it’s not the case. I believe people who are endangering themselves or other people by 1) driving recklessly (like using cellphones, or intoxicated, does not wear helmets, etc.) and/or 2) driving a vehicle that could endanger other people’s safety (missing lights, bad brake, etc) violate the Traffic Regulation No. 22 year 2009. You can google that regulation yourself.

  1. If they cause material damage the punishment is up to 6 months in prison and/or fine max IDR 1 million.
  2. If they cause injury to victims the punishment is up to 1 year and/or fine max IDR 2 million.
  3. If they cause severe injury to victims or death, the punishment is up to 5 years in prison and/or fine max IDR 10 million for severe injury, and up to 6 years in prison and/or fine max IDR 12 million for death.

What if…the victims happens to be the same person who caused the accident, don’t you think it’s fair if they also take the punishment? Yes, I know a rare case where a scooter driver drove against the traffic in Jakarta, with his 8 month pregnant wife on an overpass, just to get a shortcut. He was hit by a Honda sedan from the opposite direction who didn’t see him coming. The sedan’s bumper was badly damaged, but the scooter was totalled, his wife fell from the overpass and was killed instantly when she hit the ground, while the scooter rider was severely injured. The cops charged the scooter rider for reckless endangerment and manslaughter much to delight of many pissed off people who had to bear many similar situations when they met reckless drivers who endanger other people’s lives and win.


Honestly, writing this piece makes me question my own sanity to still drive in Bali, or Indonesia. A friend of mine who has visited the Bolivian Death Road even assured me, after driving in Indonesia he thought our traffic is much more scary than the notorious Death Road. Unfortunately I’ve got no choice but to keep driving. Every day is a battle with dangerous drivers and coming home alive after a trip is always an accomplishment.

What do you think about your own experience driving in Bali? Let us know in the comments!