Bali – death on the roads

img_7543Road kill is an animal run over and killed by a motor vehicle.

Here in Bali road kill is the ever-growing number of youngsters on motorcycles mowed down by other vehicles. In a previous issue of The Bali Times Managing Editor, William Furney, wrote passionately about the rising death toll on the roads – the unfortunate victims being motorcyclists who were and are and will continue to be (albeit tragically) the primary cause of most fatal traffic accidents unless some drastic positive action is taken not only by government but more importantly by us, the people.

The question that immediately comes to mind on reading the disturbing statistics is – if all life is sacred on the isle how come we disregard the dangers of reckless and underage driving?

I suppose it is easy to comment on the prevailing situation mindless of the predicament the Balinese have to face:

There is no credible mass transport system (MTS).

The homes of many are scattered in the rural areas and access is usually narrow roads. Therefore, even a mass transport system may not be the answer.

Absence of a comprehensive transportation system (school buses) for children.

So the only alternative the Balinese have:

Hire/purchase of motorcycles with an average price tag of rph 13 million + bank charges/interest.

Invariably, more than one vehicle is acquired by each family thus putting a financial burden on them.

School children are forced to drive themselves to school.

Some months ago, Kadek a 27-year-old married woman living in Padangbai narrated the grisly incident of a teenager who had died in a road accident at the turn off to Padangbai on the coastal road. The young girl on a motorcycle drove across the turn off oblivious to an oncoming truck. Her head came under the wheels of the vehicle. Her mother who rushed to the spot on hearing the news had to remove her remains from the asphalt – remains being the operative word here.

Kadek told me that the crossing is very dangerous as there are no traffic lights or proper street lighting, added to this the speeding vehicles and reckless driving by motorcyclists makes it a death trap.

I met a traffic cop and asked him about the reason for frequent recurring road accidents. He spoke to me on condition of anonymity, which I have to honor. This is what he had to say.

“Bapak we polisi are under constant pressure to maintain discipline on the roads. But this is not easy. How can we stop a family of four riding on a vehicle and going to the temple for ceremony? You tell me? Most of the time even my 13-year-old son drives himself to school, as there is neither school bus nor a proper bus service. The sepeda motor is the only transport. I know as a polisi it’s my duty to penalise these offenders. Children as young as 11 are driving to school and to the market – How can we stop this? My answer to this would be to instil road sense into our youngsters to teach them in school and colleges about road signs, road safety, obeying traffic rules and more. We could have a policewoman visit schools and colleges to lecture on this matter. I believe that such education will surely prevent future accidents on the road. I have witnessed a few bloody accidents myself and as a parent it makes me very worried about my own family. Not all of us can afford cars. I have this message to give to the readers of The Bali Times – we must together work to vigorously teach our children about road safety. After all we polisi are also human beings with families and we should not be made to look bad just because of these accidents. The government is trying to solve the problem of transport but this takes time. So in the meantime at least let’s start teaching our children about road safety.”

There has been many a voice raised at the errant motorcyclist who weaves through the traffic without a helmet; carries materials in one hand while holding the handle with the other; carrying a baby in one hand; talking on a hand phone; lighting a cigarette:and other heart stopping actions. So what makes these docile and smiling folk drive around like headless chickens doing death-defying manoeuvres and/or like boxers without the Marquee of Queensbury’s Rules?

I asked a friend Wayan about this curious behaviour and this was his reply.

“Mark Useless, most of us live in large extended families together in ancestral compounds. We share our responsibilities, wealth etc. Our lives are not private. Everyone in the family knows everything about each other. Our young generation wants time away from prying eyes and some feel their lives are very confined. Therefore the sepeda motor for them represents unbridled freedom. When they are driving they feel free as the wind and are very happy the faster they drive.”

It has been observed and experienced by some visitors and long time residents on the isle that if one got involved in an accident the blame would always fall rightly or wrongly on them. This is so as some locals believe that if the foreigners were not on the isle the accident/s would not have happened.

We have heard many views on the subject of road safety. And the one that strikes a note of truth is that of the policeman’s whose candid opinion reflects reality: the blood on the roads of Bali caused by ignorance and a frightening apathy towards the fact that our children are being permitted to ride the road of death without first learning the basic rules of survival.

Om Shanti Shanti Shanti Om