First the good news.
The other morning I set off on my taxi commute in an Indah
taxi, a bright shiny sweet smelling brand new car with ample legroom. I hoped he would be one of the 50% of the drivers of the Famili Indah
, Indah Famili
group of taxis who know where they're going. Maybe he did, but I didn't find out because he told me he wanted to go somewhere else and politely told me to get out and get in a conveniently parked dark blue Famili
taxi just up the road.
And, lo, the grandfatherly driver knew precisely where I wanted to go and we went smoothly along the toll road. This is another rarity because having a westerner in the back street seems to be an opportunity for drivers to demonstrate as they weave past the trundling trucks that they'd prefer to be driving on the race circuit at Sentul. I generally make vomitting noises as an indication that I'm beginning to suffer motion sickness akin to mal de mer
But this particular journey turned out to be memorable for positive reasons. Bapak's phone rang three times - and all he did was to switch it off. Not once did he take his eyes off the road. Not once. I gave him a generous trip upon my arrival and he wished me selamat tugas
- have a nice day.
A week or so earlier, my driver did answer an incoming call, from his wife he said. I angrily responded that I had a wife to think about too and I didn't want her thinking about my death caused by his utter stupidity. Hey bodoh, fokus on the road, I shouted at him.
Yes, mister, sorry mister, he said, and placed his phone on the passenger seat beside him. (I always sit in the back as I think it's possibly safer.) The phone rang again, a different ringtone indicating an incoming SMS. He took one hand off the wheel and leant over to read his message.
I grabbed his phone and wound down my window as if .....
I think he got my message, so I told him that I'd return the phone when we arrived and he had parked where he could safely read his probably unimportant message. Personally I didn't care if he killed himself, but as there's usually collateral damage in road accidents, the very least he could do was to think about the safety of his passengers.
I occasionally have to use an ojek
, one of the unregulated motorcycle taxis which took the place of the non-polluting becak
, the pedalled tricycles which were banned from Jakarta's streets a dozen years ago on the grounds that they were demeaning to the 'drivers' and, furthermore, caused traffic jams. (Pause here for a sardonic guffaw.). The other day I couldn't believe it when my driver answered a call whilst continuing to drive his Kawasaki with one hand. And he didn't understand me when I suggested that he ought to change his brand of bike to a Kamikazi.
Is it any wonder that nigh on 700 motorcyclists and passengers were killed on Jakarta's streets in the first six months of this year?
I suppose we should be grateful that a new Traffic Law was enacted a month or so ago, not that I can see any mention of handphone usage. It updates and replaces the Traffic Law of 1992 when there weren't many phone lines, let alone mobile phones, or motorcycles.
A number of new regulations are welcome, particularly those concerning public buses. Their drivers may now only pick up and drop off passengers at designated bus stops. They must also keep their doors shut when in transit. And trucks can no longer be used to carry passengers, a common sight in the remoter rural districts.
Also, any motorcyclist with more than one passenger can now be charged. The law states that they 'will' be charged, but one suspects that the practice will continue of paying an on-the-spot 'fines' to whichever policeman is on the spot at the time.
A major change is that although drivers of unroadworthy vehicles face punishments, those local administrations responsible for road maintenance are now also responsible for road safety. They can be charged if road conditions in their care cause a traffic accident.
What is sorely needed is what is termed 'socialisation' of the law. I know no-one who has ever seen a copy of Indonesia's Highway Code
- my version can be read here
- but perhaps now is the time to start issuing them and enforcing regular knowledge tests, perhaps every five years when driving and/or vehicle licences are renewed.
The traffic police are about to get a salary raise, so I forlornly hope they are also given these tests and are then able to rigorously enforce the rules.
...............................................This is another rejected article submitted to the Jakarta Globe for their Piece of Mind series. They have, however, published their series of My Jakarta interviews and purchasers of the book (from Times Bookshops) can get a copy for a mere Rp.70,000. Having already autographed a copy or two, I'll happily do the same for you.
But I do wish they'd asked for my permission first.