Driving in Bali

If you planning to drive in Bali, whether it is on a motorcycle or in a car, you are in for a unique experience. At first glance, you many think that the traffic on the roads is perfect chaos, but with a little bit of knowledge of how things work here on the roads, you will be safer and get around better. If you are an experienced driver here then you are already familiar with the characteristics of our traffic and can relate to a lot of these concepts.

The roads on Bali are congested , to say the least and things do not appear to be getting any better in the near future. There is hope on the horizon however, if you can call it that, with the potential removal of the fuel subsidy if and when that happens. This will likely cut down on the amount of cars on the roads, but will probably increase the number of motorcycles. Something else that may ease the traffic, although don’t hold your breath is the alleged introduction of transit buses.

Although these still remain to be seen, the super deluxe bus stands have already been completed and it appears as if the buses will run up and down the by pass to Nusa Dua and also up past the University Udayana. While driving on the roads in Bali, the first thing you will notice is the motorcycle to car ratio is a lot different than most countries. For example, in the Us motorcycles only account for about 3% of the total vehicle registration. It seems like almost the opposite here.

And contrary to what some people may think or say , the Balinese and Indonesians in general, are probably some of the best motorcycle riders in the world. How could you not be when you are riding on a motorcycle from the very day  you are born and most likely driving one as soon as you are big enough to reach the pegs This  level of confidence on a motorcycle. However, it till is the quickest and easiest way for us to get around in Bali but it does require careful and extremely defensive driving.

Sanglah hospital report they get about 150 motorcycle accident victim per day in the emergency area, so be careful and drive super defensively. The “rules of the road” are simple, keep left , every man for himself and never make any sudden moves. Your best bet is always to just flow with the traffic. If you suddenly see that restaurant that you were looking for out of the corner of your eye, don’t immediately swerve to pull in there. Gradually ease your way over, or better still turn around next chance and come back.

Just because you have left signal on, meaning  you want to pull over, doesn’t mean people will not still pass you on the left. Watch out for that one ! The traffic in Bali is well conditioned to move around each other, and make space for the other guy, everything just seems to flow together. For example, if you want to get out into traffic, cross a busy street or use one the inconvenient U turns on the bypass there is a certain technique involved.

Start inching your way slowly, if you are in a car and there are motorcycles in the same pack, you can trust them to “ run interference” for you, as you inch across eventually someone will stop and likely you and several other drivers will be able to get across or around . In some countries, not mentioning any names, if you use this technique, or pulled out at the wrong time, it would warrant a huge blaring of  the horn and the very least a middle finger salutation.

But not here in Bali, road rage is extremely rare if at all. If you want proof of this, next the red light turn green, you’ll notice someone always honks. Nothing is rally intended, they simply realize that quite often the front car cannot see the traffic signal at all. Everyone just goes and no one pays any mind to it at all I know of situation in other countries where people have been harassed all the way up the street for such behavior.

Apart from that is simple, just go with the flow. But there are some common sense rules that we all need to abide by to stay alive and stay out of the hospital.

Number one is drinking and driving. Simply not a good idea. Here you are unlikely to get pulled over for it or have roadblocks to discourage it , not right now anyway. But it is dangerous, here you are responsible for yourself and your friends and relatives so don’t drink. Take a cab. If you choose to get around on a motorcycle there are some reasonable precautions you should take for your safety and that of others.

First of all you should wear a helmet, it is actually the law unless you are wearing some kind of religious headgear. Helmets do save lives according to US stats, 59% of the bikers killed in 2008 were not wearing  helmets. Sanglah hospital reports that 80% of the accident victims they see suffer from head injuries, of which almost 16% were not wearing helmets . A lot of Balinese don’t wear helmets and a lot of tourists don’t wear helmets either. For sure it is more fun, cooler and convenient without one, but you have to decide if it is really worth it or not. If you don’t wear a helmet , you can also be stopped for riding without a helmet, which can and does happen.

Eye protection and lung protection is very important if driving here. There is an exceptional amount of particulate in the air, and bugs at night, that will end up in your eyes. Get some safety glasses if nothing else. A lot of people now are very wisely wearing breathing masks on the motorcycle. The air on and around the roadways is especially bad, it makes sense to protect yourself this way as well.

Talking and texting on a hand phone is illegal in most countries while driving a car. To do it while riding a motorcycle is just plain dumb. Pull over, if you don’t have time and hassle. You will see some strange behaviors on the road, they are just accepted by those that live here and use the roads a lot , as just part  of the traffic.

Driving up the wrong side of the road, on the shoulder, usually you see motorcycles doing this , but some places it is cars too. You can understand why people would do this in some areas such as the bypass, but it is surely dangerous and it is always an extra challenge to drive with traffic coming at you from both sides, especially at night.

Motorcycles driving at night with headlights. Don’t quite understand this habit, but you will see this over Indonesia. It is especially dangerous on rainy nights and with all the pot holes in the roads from the rainy season. Tonight I saw a family with a child on board, no lights. Watch out for people doing this, while traveling up the wrong side of the road.

Motorcycles driving at night without taillights. You see this a lot , it is hard to see them when you are coming up from behind, especially in inclement weather. Sometimes you fell like telling them , hey your taillight is burnt out.

Motorcycles driving at night with taillights on, but no red lens in the taillight. You’ll notice this on the roads at night. Last night one of these pulled out in front of us and I though it was a motorcycle coming right at us, almost had a heart attack.

Making a right hand turn from a left hand lane, or making the right hand U turn from the left hand lane. This is a way to make sure you are on your toes at the intersection. Sometimes, you are just turning right across traffic with the light and a motorcycle is on your left, trying to make the U turn. Sometime cars and trucks do this as well, just watch for it and slow down to let them go around or drive around them somehow.

Motorcycles without mirrors. A lot of people remove the mirrors from their motorcycle, or they just them down. Don’t know why, but if you see someone without mirrors, careful, because they can’t see you.

Here are some good driving habits for any driver in Bali, Indonesia or tourist, no matter who you are, or where you are from :

Daytime driving lights are always recommended in cars especially in the countryside on the highways, with the entire two lane passing that goes on. On a motorcycle, you should always use daytime running light everywhere. May as well strive for as much visibility as possible and it is being recommended now by the police.

Signal lights can never do you wrong and it is a good idea to use them as much as possible, whether in a car or motorcycle. Even though you are driving down the middle of the line, it is still a good habit to get into to use your signal light when you are moving over. It never hurts to give as much warning as possible to traffic, as to what you wnt to do.

Being a pedestrian in Bali is a different story. It is usually a challenge to cross a main street. Some times you see people you see people waiting to cross and wonder how long that is going to take them, with heavy traffic in both directions. Personally. I always try to stop  at occupied crosswalks. This is usually received with a look of disbelief and sometimes requires several signals to the pedestrian that it is Ok. Still , it is good habit and if we start to do it more, it may catch on.

As you can see , to drive safety in Bali is more than just knowing some basic rules, you need to be extremely defensive in your driving habits and be aware of the unique traits of the traffic here. Hopefully by identifying some of the unusual things that happen on the roads it will give you a head start in negotiating your way around.

Driving here is probably unlike anywhere else I the world. Total chaos, everyone squeezing in everywhere and yet everything just seems to work together and not a signal curse word or middle finger ever offered up. I guess you could say that somehow, it is just typical Bali.

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