How To Successfully Drive A Car In Indonesia

By Mark Wiens 3 Comments

Though this might sound like I’m joking even sarcastic half the time, its actually quite realistic.  Don’t take my suggestions as fact but rather use them as guidelines, something to think about when you rent a vehicle.  Don’t let this stress you out, when you get on the road, you will understand and formulate your own ideas.  Renting a car in Indonesia was quite an enjoyable event for myself and can be for you as well.  However, don’t pretend it is going to be relaxing.

You will be presented with various obstacles on the road.  Things such as a motorcycle with a desk wide ways on the back, a bicycle carrying 10 meter bamboo poles (no red flags), someone pushing a noodle cart and stopping without warning, a dog napping in the middle of the street, a family of 5 on a scooter putt putting along.  Not to be alarmed, this makes driving very interesting.

Our Rented Suzuki Karimun

These suggestions are not Indonesia exclusive, but quite universal for many developing nations.  The number 1 rule is don’t hit anything. If you can do this (by any means), great!, here are some suggestions for attempting it.

1. Drive Fast

Drive fast to keep up with the other traffic who are also maxing out their engines.  If you drive too slow, the road will be a more hazardous place for you and other motorists.

2. Make Slow Lane Switches

When you want to switch lanes (though there are no lines) slowly scoot over despite what is in your mirror.  What is in the way at the time (motorcycles, pedestrians, dogs, animals, or other cars) will adapt to your vehicle, as long as you are swerving slowly.

3. Don’t Be The First To Stop at a Traffic Light

Often you will have no idea when the light turns green and when to go.  There is no real problem if you are the first to stop, just keep your ears open for the honks.

4. Tailgate

Especially driving through intersections if the light turns orange, tailgate the vehicle in front of you so you make the light, even if it happens to turn red long before you enter the intersection.

5. Overtake

Despite oncoming traffic by way of motorcycles and pedestrians, venture into the oncoming lane without much hesitation.  The bikes and people will move out of the way, often to the very edges of the road.  Its “okay” or shall I say “accepted” to run people off the road.  You will be run off the road a few times as well.

6. Honk

Make sure you toot your horn frequently, but never laying on the horn, only small taps, to let your competitors know you are present.

7. Don’t Panic

If you get on the road and are stressed out by the constant stream of motorcycles swerving in front of you from the left, right (sometimes unknown), just cruise along, acknowledging they know you are there, just don’t make sudden swerves.

Motorcycles will come and go...rapidly
Motorcycles will come and go…rapidly

Everyone  whether they are riding in cars, trucks, scooters, motorcycles, makeshift trucks, customized motorcycles, food cart motorcycles, rickshaws, bicycles, or wheeled accessories, seem to be floating along despite the noise in a continuous flow of harmony.  Many may prefer a backseat position, but driving can open new options and is great for avoiding “scooter butt.”  As for driving a scooter or motorcycle, there are a whole new set of guidelines.

The bottom line is to do whatever you can to be as safe as possible while avoiding collision with anything or anyone.

I know I didn’t cover it all, please let me know of your suggestions or comments!

-Mark Wiens