Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Driving In Aceh

As I’ve been driving around Aceh province with skilled local drivers, I’ve been trying to determine why there are not more accidents on the roads. The traffic appears, at first glance, to be a chaotic mix of scooters, motorcycles, cars, SUV’s, trucks, and busses. I’ve come to some conclusions as to why it works. Everyone knows “The Rules”.

First, Indonesians drive on the left side of the road, not the right as we do back home, so take that into account when I mention left and right turns. And understand, as I write, that my tongue is firmly planted in my cheek …kind of…

1) You are responsible for nothing behind you and everything in front of you. Assume that everything coming at you from behind will avoid you. Whatever happens in front of you, react accordingly, avoid them and move on.
2) If you want to make a left turn just go ahead, assume the traffic coming from your right will avoid hitting you as you merge into their lane. This happens all the time as scooters appear from the left and simply turn on to the side of the major road without looking to the right at all. Cars and trucks do the same.
3) Assume everyone coming towards you might cut across in front of you to make a right turn. This happens a lot in the cities.
4) If you’re crossing the top of a “T” junction and the traffic light is red, ignore it. It’s only for people wanting to turn.
5) If you are coming to a very busy intersection, turn on your warning flashers, they will protect you.
6) Assume the road is wide enough for a car and at least one motorcycle each way, if you need to overtake - straddle the white line, if there is one, and go for it.
7) If you think you have enough clear road ahead to overtake, just go ahead, any traffic coming the other way will slow down and let you complete the pass.
8) Any animals wandering onto the road are fine, just avoid them.
9) There is no limit on how many people can be loaded onto two wheels. It’s not uncommon to see dad driving, mom on the back sitting side saddle cradling an infant in her arms, and an older brother/sister sitting between dad’s legs on the gas tank. Three on a scooter or motorbike is commonplace.
10) There is no limit to what you can carry on two wheels.
11) If your vehicle has a serious breakdown leave it in the middle of the road, erect some form of warning “triangle”, and proceed with repairs on site. I saw a truck this morning stopped in the middle of the opposite lane with its drive shaft laying on the road underneath it surrounded by tools.

The marvelous thing about all this is that it works. People don’t seem to get upset. You don’t hear angry horn honking although a gentle toot-toot is used all the time to let others know you’re passing by. 

I wouldn’t fancy my chances of not having an accident here if I were behind the wheel, so I’m happy to sit in the passenger seat and watch.

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