Driving in Indonesia


Driving in Indonesia



Rule of the Road

Traffic in Indonesia drives on the left side of the road, in common with most of Asia.



Statistics (year 2007 figures)


UK comparison

Annual fatalities



Registered motor vehicles



Motorisation rate, (motor vehicles / 1,000 population)



Fatality rate, (deaths / 10,000 motor vehicles)



Fatality risk, (road deaths / 100,000 population)



Fatality quotient, (fatality rate x fatality risk)



Fatalities / 1,000 km road



Road length, km



Paved roads, %



Road density, (road length km / land area km2)



Vehicle density, (motor vehicles / km)



Population density, (population / km2)





Statistics Summary

Indonesia has approximately double the number of registered vehicles compared to the UK, although only 9,500,000 are cars, 73% are motorcycles, but the motorisation rate is rising rapidly each year. This has resulted in a very high vehicle density, with a low population density compared to the UK. The numbers of fatalities and the various fatality rates are significantly higher than the UK. Unfortunately, 61% of all fatalities are motorcyclists, and many of these are due to the low rate of helmet wearing, or wearing their helmet unfastened, or an unsuitable helmet type.





Driving Environment

Indonesia lies along the equator, so has a very warm tropical climate, the temperature hardly varying throughout the year, but also receiving significant monsoon rainfall. The country is composed of several long narrow islands and many smaller ones, and half of the land area is forested. Indonesia is the location of over 400 volcanoes, of which 130 are active. Outside of the cities many of the roads are quite pleasant to drive along, mostly having a good surface, but with incessant bends.



Driver Behaviour.

Many drivers here behave in a rather haphazard manner, legal compliance is low, possibly because many drivers are unaware of most road traffic law. Lane discipline is minimal, hazard awareness is minimal, and hazardous behaviour is common. A significant proportion of motorcycle users do not wear a helmet, and of those that do wear a helmet, many helmets are either unfastened or of an unsuitable style, i.e. cap type, or ornamental, or not manufactured to accepted standards.






The vehicle stock is predominately new in terms of light vehicles and most buses, some trucks are a little older, whilst handcarts are still commonly in use in many places. However, there are an enormous number of motorcycles in general use.

Although the steering wheel is on the right, the same as the UK, the direction indicator switch follows the Japanese preference of being on the right with the wiper switch on the left.

Here the motorcycle taxi is very common in cities, as they can take a passenger (or two) easily through congested traffic, and their running costs are low, so offering low fares to their customers. However, offer of a helmet is not included in the fare.





Speed Limits.

Speed is measured in km/h. Signage is reasonably good on highways but sparse in towns, and signage follows the ISO system, and written using European numbers. Generally, 2-lane dual carriageways have a maximum of 80 km/h, and 3 lane dual carriageways have a limit of 100 km/h. 100 km/h is the national maximum.

Minimum speed limits also exist, typically 60 km/h on toll roads, but 30 km/h on some other roads.

Speed limits in towns vary according to the road type, signs are rare, but occasionally a 60 km/h may be displayed.

End of previous lower limit signs are also displayed, but without a sign for the new limit.

Town and city speed limits are high, typically 60 km/h for all roads.



Traffic Signals.

There are two common sequences in use:  the 4-part sequence: green > amber > red > red & amber > green;  but also the short 3-part sequence: green > amber > red > green.

Some junctions and some pedestrian crossings have a system of 3 amber signal lights, flashing vertically in sequence, slow down, be prepared to give way to pedestrians or traffic crossing or joining.

Running a red light after the end of the green phase is very common, as is jumping a red light a couple of seconds before the green illuminates.

There are 3 situations in which a driver may turn left at a red signal:  where there is an unsignalised bypass lane; where there is a green filter arrow typically with a dedicated filter lane; and where there is a worded sign below the signal head informing drivers that they may turn at the red light. These worded signs are sometimes written dual language in English and Indonesian, but often only in Indonesian ‘belok kiri jalan terus’. However, drivers & especially motorcyclists commonly turn left at a red signal, even when there is a red arrow prohibiting this, especially when there are no police in sight.

The signal lights may often be rather dim, and the red is commonly discoloured and may be a very similar colour to amber.





Road signs.

Regulatory, prohibitory, and obligatory signs follow the standard ISO (European) system. Signs with numbers, e.g. speed limits and distances are written using European numbers.

However, hazard signs follow the American yellow diamond system.

Directional signs are all written using the Roman alphabet, and are easy to read and follow.

Signs giving general advice are written using the Roman alphabet, a few are in English or dual language, but most are written only in Indonesian language, so are not easy to understand.





Road markings.

Both white and yellow are used, generally with white along the centre of the road, but in rare places following the American system of using yellow along the centre where the road carries 2-way traffic, and white along dual carriageway and one-way roads.

Edge markings are commonly white along main roads.





Kerb markings.

Around towns, many kerbs are painted alternately black / white, some are painted black / yellow. However, there does not seem to be any legal foundation for this, as this is observed both where kerbside parking is permitted and where parking is prohibited, but in many cases the kerbing of the central reservation is painted, possibly to make it conspicuous.




Roundabouts typically have few signs or markings, many roundabouts have no signs or markings whatsoever. However, most traffic does follow a clockwise route around the roundabout, and some drivers entering the roundabout do give way to circulating traffic.




Many non-signalised junctions exist, most have priority lines or signs, although generally they are not respected, drivers tend to emerge without even looking once, assuming that traffic on the main road will slow to allow others to emerge.

At many junctions, especially at busy T junctions and where U turns are common, ‘unofficial traffic wardens’ armed only with a whistle, will stop the traffic for the emerging or turning driver in anticipation of a small tip from the driver.





Pedestrian Crossings.

Zebra crossings are common in towns, but drivers are reluctant to stop. In many places ‘unofficial traffic wardens’ armed only with a whistle, will stop the traffic for the pedestrian in anticipation of a small tip from the pedestrian.





Railway Crossings.

Railways exist on only the larger islands of Java and Sumatra, and railway level crossings are common in towns. Typically there are some signs, usually a stop sign, and light signals, but no gates or barriers.




Indonesia has a good network of dual carriageway highways on many islands. On some roads the central reservation is by Jersey Curb, other places by grass only, the central reservation is normally kerbed in urban areas and often not kerbed in rural areas.

Sliproads tend to be of adequate length, although some rather short.

However, lane discipline is poor, trucks & buses often remain in any lane, overtaking along the shoulder is not legal but very common.

Lesser dual carriageways tend to have very frequent U turns, although these are clearly very dangerous for the U turning traffic, dangerous for the traffic slowing behind them, and especially dangerous for the drivers on the new carriageway onto which they are turning. On seeing traffic ahead of you preparing to make a U turn, move into lane 1 to pass on their inside as they slow to turn. On approaching a U turn where oncoming traffic may turn into your path, be prepared to slow early, possibly to stop, as the U turning traffic may not give way to you, and will typically cross all lanes.

Many highways are toll roads, the toll plazas are at relatively short distances apart, so fees are low, but keep sufficient small banknotes with you.





City Driving.

Roads around the cities are typically of good quality and reasonably well signed and marked. Jakarta has several roads restricted to multi-occupancy vehicles. For drivers travelling alone, or with insufficient passengers, you will see hitch-hikers conveniently located just before the multi-occupancy lanes start. These hitch-hikers earn their living from tips paid by the driver to the hitch-hiker at a rate below that of the fine that would otherwise be levied. The hitch-hikers spend their entire day travelling back-and-forth in this manner.

Jakarta has a new system of bus lanes, separated from other traffic by a significant kerb which may be mountable at slow speeds, painted yellow. Some bus lanes are on the right, some on the left. These bus lanes are served by buses with specially designed high floors and served by a special high platform system of bus stops. Where the bus lanes cross a road, the bus lane surface may be coloured red.





Rural Roads.

Whilst Indonesia has some flat coastal plains, its topography is mostly of volcanic mountains. The primary roads tend to circumnavigate the base of the mountains and along the coastline, whilst the minor mountain roads tend to be ridge-roads running up-down the mountainsides. Thus there are many bends on all roads, and in some places a long series of hairpin bends. Villages tend to be of a linear nature along the roadside, and in many places one village merely merges into the next. Because of this, many roads are constrained by buildings and relatively narrow.





Night Driving.

Night driving in Indonesia is not recommended. Night driving within a city has significant safety risks, street lighting is poor, limited only to a few main roads in larger cities, and many road users may be very difficult to see at night. Many vehicles may not display lights, especially hand carts, cycles, and motorcycles. Trucks and some others may have wrongly coloured lights at the front, sides, or rear, making identification of direction difficult.

However, some of the recently improved dual carriageways have Armco barrier carrying reflective markers in the normal style, i.e. red reflectors along the left side, and amber reflectors along the central reservation.




Parking is not normally permitted on a road except in marked parking bays. On-street parking where marked is generally free, as is some private parking. Some private parking requires a fee to raise an exit barrier.






Something to watch out for … Motorcycles heading towards you in the wrong lane, especially on an urban dual carriageway where they sometimes travel along the wrong carriageway.

Also, watch for the risk of a vehicle U turning into your path.


©Keith Lane 2009