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How to Drive in Indonesia

To operate a motor vehicle in Indonesia, you must understand the transportation gestalt in an entirely different way. Definitions that you thought were above redefinition will immediately be redefined. Please pay attention.

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.


All animals are granted the greatest respect in Indonesia. It is presumed that, being highly evolved creatures, chickens and dogs and the like know how to sidestep a Mitsubishi going 78 mph on a fog-shrouded road during a national religious holiday.

This same position of honor is granted to small children, men with 30 pounds of hay on their heads, unattended oxcarts and elderly women in mystic trances. Slowing or swerving to avoid these beings would cause them dishonor.


These colorful white and yellow markings wish a hearty Selamat Datang (welcome) to every traveler. They have no other function.


The national sport of Indonesia. Observant motorists may encounter the vertical triple (passing three vehicles in one acceleratory movement), the horizontal triple (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).


What to do when not passing.

Being Passed:

An insult not to be endured. The greater the differential between your vehicle (say, a Boeing 747), the great the potential loss of prestige. The owner of the less powerful vehicle must always do everything in his/her power to thwart the attempt to overtake.

Seat Belts:

Absolutely unnecessary. Not only are they not worn, they are not even provided. Passengers are fully protected by the horn.


Rapidly blinking the headlights can mean many things, including “OK to pass now,” “dangerous to pass now,” “get out the way,” or “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 inhabitants from all harm. The faster the vehicle is going, the better the horn works. This is the central concept of Indonesian motoring.


Rare. Usually the result of a malfunctioning horn.

Adapted from: An article by Jon Carroll, San Francisco Chronicle, November 4, 1988
(and not much has changed since then :)

© Held by the author.