Highway To Hell

Feb 22nd, 2012, in News, Travel, by

Highway-to-HellTourists living dangerously by adopting local transportation customs while in Bali.

Australian journalist Tom Allard has exploded the myth that foreign tourists visiting Bali need to be most concerned about terrorism, natural disasters, drugs, corrupt officials and police, rabid dogs, Indonesian airline safety, unhygienic tattoo parlours, Kuta cowboys and other items often mentioned in alarmist travel advisories.

In his article, "Accident Waiting To Happen", Mr Allard shows that the most life-threatening activity for tourists - many of them his compatriots - is another more mundane/common activity: adopting the local habit of driving/riding motorcyles without helmets.

Guys on motorbikes, clothing and helmets optional Tourist family on motorbike in Bali
Don't tell their mothers...
Gallery of similar photos here

Possibly similar to their evening activities these tourists wouldn't dare do the same thing in their home country, but somehow feel it is different in Bali. Despite taxis and cars with drivers available for hire everywhere (one time there was even a brawl between drivers from existing taxi companies and a new competitor), tourists often prefer this more dangerous alternative.

Wearing helmets is indeed compulsory in Bali, but not strictly enforced. The Bali police chief has previously been more concerned by foreign tourists not wearing shirts than not wearing helmets, suggesting motorcyclists' safety is not his top priority.

Mia Webster Funeral NoticeHowever, Mr Allard writes, it becomes a problem when a tourist has an accident. They are disturbingly common in Bali; 150-300 people are treated daily for road-related injuries at the largest public hospital, Sanglah. It was once famous for treating many victims of the Bali bombing, including Australian football player Jason McCartney. These days, foreign patients are rather less heroic; an Australian volunteer working at the hospital described them as "young and drunk and without helmets".

In September 2011, an Australian lady on her honeymoon died after a collision in Legian.

Mr Allard also warns an accident in Bali can also be disastrous for the careless foreign tourist's finances. Every few days, one is sent to Singapore, Perth or Darwin for further treatment after a crash. Travel insurance does not cover medical expenses when the claimant broke local road rules in the process, such as not wearing a helmet or having a valid international driver's licence. Medical evacuation costs $25 000, and intensive care in Singapore is currently costing one British family of a crash victim $20 000 per week; they have had to remortgage their house.

These are all sobering facts, but what about all the Indonesian motorcycle crash victims?

Local actress Valia Rahma, 26, died after a motorcycle crash, also in LegianSome disturbing statisticsThe Jakarta Post:

  • - In 2010, traffic accidents were the third highest cause of death in Bali, despite the count (606 people) excluding victims who died later in hospital, such as Valia Rahma (right). In 2006, traffic accidents were #8. Cancer is now #4, despite the large number of smokers.
  • - Human error was the leading cause of death in traffic accidents. Over half (51%) of the drivers found at fault in traffic accidents did not have a valid driver's licence, nor did 1 in 4 (26%) of the victims/third parties (i.e. the other innocent drivers involved in the accident) .
  • - 85% of all traffic accidents recorded in Bali in 2010 involved motorcycles.

Nationally, it is no better. The Indonesian road toll for 2010 was 31 234 people, or more than 3 deaths every hour.The Jakarta Post What could Indonesians and their government do to improve road safety awareness in a culturally sensitive way and to reduce the road toll? More generally, who do you think is ultimately responsible for road safety in Bali?

I Made Mangku Pastika
a) Governor of Bali,
I Made Mangku Pastika

Chief of Police, Bali
b) Chief of Police in Bali,
Tengku Ashikin Husein

The travelling public
c) The public

Regarding c), some may argue that some victims bring it upon themselves by their own foolishness, à la Darwin Awards.

Tourist on a motorbike, iPod yes, helmet no Tourist on bike with unstrapped helmet, beer and cigarettes in right hand
In Indonesian, these people "masuk surga cepat" (take a short cut to heaven)

However, victims and third parties surely feel differently.

Based on the statistics above, here is an alternative travel advisory for Indonesia:

Travel Warning Indonesia Reconsider your need to travel
on a motorcycle, especially
when drunk and/or not
wearing a helmet

What do you think can be done to encourage tourists and locals to take road safety more seriously, rather than taking the "Highway to Hell"?

Suggestions, comments and personal experiences welcome.


33 Comments on “Highway To Hell”

  1. avatar Megan Webster (maiden name) says:

    I am the cousin of Mia Webster, who has been used as an example in this article. In respect to her family I think it should be know that you have your facts wrong. She wasn’t riding a motorbike, she was walking across a street and hit by a foreigner who was riding a motorbike. She was also not a newlywed, but a young Australian who was working in the region. The accident was motorbike bike related but she was not doing anything foolish or reckless, but was simply in the wrong place at the wrong time.

  2. avatar Chris says:

    I apologise if my post offended you; it was not my intention.

    I was paraphrasing Tom Allard’s article. In it, your cousin is described as “a young newlywed”, which to me suggested she was on her honeymoon in Bali – like many other Australians do.

    I was trying to show that these accidents occur increasingly frequently, and not only to “yobbos” or the young and careless. The fact that Mia was an innocent victim of somebody else’s driving mistake makes her loss all the more tragic.

    If you like, I can edit the text or add a comment at the end to highlight the fact that others were responsible for Mia’s death.

  3. avatar glenn ford says:

    This happened this morning on the way to Ubud. Stupidity on the road.

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