Angloinfo Texts


General Considerations
First things first: motorists move along with traffic as flows in the left lane.  Passing is supposed to take place in the right lane.
Road conditions vary considerably across the archipelago, but some generalizations can be made.  Most well-traveled highways are paved, narrow, and two lane.  On a country road, don’t expect any shoulder space.
Road Signs
For more developed countries, a section on road signs would require pages of detail.  But not in Indonesia!  Road signs are only to be found in larger cities, and lighting of roads at night is almost non-existent outside of downtown urban areas.  Even considerably large cities of half a million population may have within the city limits only half a dozen stop and go lights. Stop signs are almost non-existent in Indonesia as well.
When driving in Indonesia, you’re very much on your own!
Road Maintenance
The roads themselves are in good enough condition in urban areas, but once out in the countryside, it is unpredictable.  Indonesia is afflicted by a long list of natural disasters, and torrential rains often result in floods and landslides.  One day a country highway cutting through a jungle landscape can be free and clear; the next covered in mud and debris.  Tropical weather creates quick wear –and –tear of the highways, and roads require constant repair. Sink holes appear out of nowhere it seems; often after a heavy rain.
Quality of road maintenance varies according to region.  Highways in richer, more developed areas such as Bali and West Java are generally kept up better than one would find in a remote area of Kalimantan or Papua. 

Driving Behavior
Driving behaviors vary as well, but again, some generalizations- and warnings – are appropriate.
Particularly on the densely populated island of Java, drivers show little concern for safety.  For example, professional bus and truck drivers drive at high speeds and behave aggressively.  The expectation is that all smaller vehicles should yield to those larger.  Many motor bike riders, for example, are forced to the shoulder as buses come up from behind at full speed.  No one expects them to slow down- and they won’t. When they honk- you have to move.  As for driving on such rapid expressways: When road shoulders do exist they should always be considered a lane to themselves, as they are routinely used for quick escape as well as passing.
Many roads in Indonesia are windy, and when traffic emerges from a more remote windy section of highway onto a straight stretch, many vehicles will suddenly accelerate.  They will proceed at high speeds even into crowded towns.  Small towns which are bisected by a straight stretch of trans-island highway bearing a heavy stream of through traffic can be incredibly dangerous.
Motor Bikes
Motorbikes practice their own rules of the road, on the other hand.  As in most of Asia, they heavily outnumber all other vehicles on the road and swarm in packs in densely populated areas.
They also share an unwritten, cultural code that exists outside the law.  This has foreigners scratching their head at first blush. Any given lane can become two or three and motorcyclists split them at will. Motor cyclists will freely pass to the left or right.  In both towns and inner cities they commonly mount and drive on sidewalks when traffic backs up and can often be seen driving along the side of the road going the wrong way on a one way street.  Indonesians don’t bat an eye at this- it is simply part of the motorcyclist’s code of behavior.  Motorcycles are often the primary transportation for a family, and it’s not uncommon to see four people riding together on one bike.  The smallest of children are likely not to have their own helmet in such a situation, often because the parents can’t afford it.
Few cross walks exist in Indonesia, and most drivers don’t acknowledge them whatsoever. Pedestrians on the other hand cross wherever they want to, expecting passing traffic to accommodate them.  Their walk amounts to a slow amble.  In fact, this is the safest way to cross any road in Indonesia.  Running across a set of lanes is considered dangerous.  Drivers respond to slow moving pedestrians as that is the custom. While crossing, a pedestrian might need to extend their hand out as would a policeman and gesture for oncoming traffic to slow down.   For the most part, drivers in Indonesia do respond positively to such a gesture.
For pedestrians there is safety in numbers.  It is always safer to tag along side a few other people when crossing the road.   

Using the horn to signal close proximity or demand another driver move over to allow the faster vehicle to pass is universal behavior in Indonesia.  It can be taken to be aggressive, but often it has more to do with safety. In such places as the United States, honking a horn can catalyze a fit of road rage, and foreigners from such countries have to quickly accustom themselves to the signaling use of horns in Indonesia.
Broken-down Vehicles
Vehicles in disrepair are common sights.  At night, vehicles can be seen driven without functioning headlamps or turn signals.  People routinely park in the road itself, and local transportation makes frequent stops in the road to pick up or drop off passengers, or even to stop for a snooze. 
Communal use of Roads for Festivities
Road surfaces are also used for community parties and gatherings of all sorts- including weddings and funerals.  As Indonesia social interaction revolves around such gatherings, expect to see a least one every time you go out on the road.  This is especially dangerous as approaching a small town along a through highway.
Vehicular Accidents& Emergency Services
Minor injuries suffered as a result of a traffic accident can become much more serious as traffic police and ambulances are scarce in out-of-the-way places.  Accident victims are often transported to hospitals by others involved in the accident who escaped uninjured or by a driver flagged down as passing by.
Java vs. Bali
As opposed to Java, Bali is a much safer and saner place for driving.  The growing problem of traffic congestion is a problem common to both islands, though.  In Java, it is predicted Jakarta will experience total traffic gridlock by 2012.  Jakarta traffic makes progress at an average rate of about five kilometers per hour. Congestion in Jakarta is so bad that even the government has plans for moving the capital outside the area.
A trip between downtown Denpasar and Kuta Beach in Bali took as little as thirty minutes five years ago.  As of 2010, the trip often takes one hour, and two or more is not out of the question.
To drive, or not to drive?  That is the question
Transportation advisories as provided by embassies or state departments from foreign countries seem to be in universal agreement: it is better not to drive in Indonesia.  They advise hiring a driver. But this doesn’t mean that foreign residents shouldn’t and don’t drive their own vehicles.  Many foreign residents routinely own and operate motorbikes especially, as they are cheap and convenient.  They are the favored mode of transport for most Indonesians and many foreign residents.
Foreigners who own a four-wheeled vehicle in Indonesia will have to choose as to whether they will drive themselves or hire a driver.  If money is no object, then hiring a driver is again often recommended.  Foreigners who can afford it consider a private driver to be a necessary part of a domestic help package. For all the chaos one sees on the roadways in Indonesia, the Indonesians themselves don’t necessarily perceive it the same.  There seems to be a sixth sense about their inter-communications on the roadway.  They seem to be able to judge each others likely driving reactions.
Then again, many foreigners do own and drive motor bikes and find the experience manageable.  Motor bikes dominate the roadways in Indonesia anyway, and due to their small size are able to negotiate where cars and trucks have a much more difficult time. 


Outside of urban areas or suburban corridors, most roads are simple two lane highways.  Most have no central striping, shoulder markings, road lamps, or guard rails.  Almost 100% of these roads are public and non-toll.  Everyone is free to use them anytime of day or night. There are some rest areas as marked, but they are undeveloped.  Don’t expect toilets or water fountains.  Sometimes rest areas are in reality an inducement to stop and patronize a small concession on the side of the road that happens to have plenty of parking space.

Toll roads are extremely rare in Indonesia, and only found in the largest urban areas. Within the city of Jakarta, one will find expressway links that are toll roads.  For example, the trip from a downtown hotel to the airport can either be taken along toll or non-toll roads.  The toll expressways are of course less crowded and there are three tolls stops along the way. 

Expressways and other freeway links in urban areas are signed.  But apart from these types of multi-lane highways, road signs of any type are very rare.

Country roads in remote farming or wilderness areas may be paved or not, depending.  In any case there will rarely if ever be any kind of road sign that will alert you to the nature or condition of the road up ahead.

Private roads are very rare in such areas, and almost all roadways are free to public travel.  If not, there is usually some security gate which will block passage.


Speed limits are provided for by law, but are rarely posted. Speed limits as noted below are lower in wet weather:

                                                        60-80 (lorries, autos + trailer)

Speed limits are flagrantly broken in many places. On highways such as the infamous stretch between Yogyakarta and Solo in Central Java, nearly everyone speeds and the police don’t enforce the limits as provided by law. 

Driving Rules and Regulations
Mandatory Equipment for a Four-Wheeled Vehicle (cars and some trucks)
As of January 2010, a new revision of Indonesia’s driving laws came into effect.  It stipulates the following:

RECOMMENDED:   Set of spare light bulbs; tow rope

General Laws all Drivers must abide by

Again, according to the new traffic statutes of 2010:


Accidents between a car and a motorcycle are invariably considered as the fault of the driver of the car.  This is the cultural custom as has evolved and applies if both drivers are Indonesian.

For foreigners the rules are a little different.  If foreign drivers are involved in a road accident they will likely be judged at fault, no matter the case.  In fact, payment will be often be demanded on the spot.  If minor personal injuries are involved, the price demanded will be higher to cover medical treatment.  Many people who have experienced such a predicament report that the prices are negotiable and best paid immediately before a crowd gathers.  If a crowd gathers before a payment is agreed upon, then usually the presence of onlookers helps to drive the price higher.

If serious injuries or death is involved, then the police must necessarily be contacted. Otherwise, the authorities won’t be called in as they tend to complicate matters.  Under such circumstances, it may still be possible to pay one’s way out of the situation, but a legal entanglement could remain once a police report is filed.

Note that even though insurance is mandatory, it is useless under the circumstances described above.  Direct cash payment is not only preferred, but demanded.  If the driver owns collision insurance, repair of a damaged car might be paid for by a reputable insurance company, but filing for liability as per damages to another vehicle is often non-applicable.  Cultural customs work against such a claim filing system.

As noted, third-party vehicle insurance is a mandatory requirement in Indonesia.  Known as SAMSAT, it is included as part of the vehicle registration fee and only covers bodily injury.  One can see that payment for damage to the vehicle is most often left to the customary roadside haggling.


There exist no major towing companies in Indonesia, but smaller companies do exist in most urban areas.  The following cities are listed as having towing services:

Denpasar, Bali
Bandung, West Java
Jakarta, West Java
Tangerang, West Java
Surabaya, East Java
Pekalongan, Java


THE IDP (International Driver’s Permit)

The easiest and quickest way to become a valid driver in Indonesia is to make sure you acquire an IDP in your native country before coming to visit or live in Indonesia.  Proof of having a pre-existing driver’s license is all that is needed. 

In the United States, the U.S. Department of State has authorized the two following automobile associations to issues IDP’s:

Aside from a reasonable fee, the requirements are:

Renting a Car or Motor Bike
In Bali specifically, it is very easy to rent a car at one of many rental businesses.  They won’t ask for proof of insurance or a valid IDP as they are not legally bound.  The fee payed is simply for the rental of the vehicle. Signing the rental papers makes the renter liable for the vehicle itself and all potential liabilities connected to driving it. 
Renting a motor bike can be similar, but often it is much less formal.  Often a rental company is not involved and the rental is made by an individual.  The individual may simply rent you their motor bike for the day without asking for a signed contract.  If an accident happens, negotiations between the parties involved take place similar to those outlined in the section on road accidents above.


In terms of general parking laws in a municipal area, one would never know they exist in any formal sense. Police rarely ticket unattended cars for being illegally parked, and rarely do they tow cars away.  One never sees a ticket slipped in between a wiper blade and the windshield! If a driver is present and parked on an elevated sidewalk for instance, they could be approached by a traffic policeman and issued a warning and possibly a ticket.  Often the driver will pay the policeman to prevent from being ticketed. 

Parking accounts for a significant portion of the underground economy in Indonesia.  In the case of malls and larger private department stores, there will be ample parking provided on site, whether ground level or underground.  As a store patron, you won’t be charged for parking by the store’s owner.  But often there will be in attendance a parking tout who will call your attention and “help” you back out of your parking space.  Payment for such a service is usually a mere 1,000 rupiah (equivalent to about a U.S. dime) but it is a stretch to say payment is legally mandatory.  Often such services are forced upon the stores by local gangs and this is especially true in Jakarta where the “parking mafias” control a wide spread turf of commercial real estate. 

The parking tout is a seemingly permanent feature of Indonesian life, and found all over the archipelago.  Their activities cover most parking lots as provided by commercial storefronts, and even side-shoulder parking in front of commercial establishments.

Otherwise, in downtown, commercial areas, parking lots are few, and one call only judge whether parking is allowed by simply noticing if people are using the shoulder to park on.  In practice, most people park in lots as provided by commercial establishments or on the side of the road where a shoulder exists.  There is no such thing as metered parking in Indonesia.

Parallel parking is used very little in Indonesia.  In fact, drivers are rarely skilled at it.  Driving in reverse in general is a weakness of most Indonesian drivers, and that gives the parking mafia one valid reason for being!


“Drink driving” (or drunk driving as referred to in the U.S.) is not singled out for special legal consideration in Indonesia’s new driving statutes.  It is only listed amongst several other likely causes of “compromising a driver’s attention.”  There is no law per se against drunk driving, yet the law does state that there is zero tolerance for driving after having consumed alcohol.  Any amount is considered too much.  As with many Indonesian laws, this one is unclear and confusing.  Inevitably, it leaves it open to interpretation by the courts- and the police.

In practice, this means that a police officer can cite a driver for compromised attention, but the charge might not be cited as “driving while drunk or drinking.”  Policemen do not carry breathalizers.  But if one is driving drunk and causes a serious accident, the court might well take into account “cited inebriation” as the cause and it could lead to imprisonment.  In summary, drunk driving charges vary with the nature of the circumstance.  If loss of property or personal injury is involved, it could be very serious.  Otherwise, paying the officer a simple bribe is a distinct option.

There is strict control of the sale of imported alcohol in most, but not all of Indonesia.  Though overwhelmingly a Muslim nation, many people do drink, as traditionally produced spirits as sold by individual brewers are found almost everywhere.  But drunk driving is not commonly considered a significant cause of vehicular accidents. 


The following is well known and documented repeatedly.  It is in no way an endorsement of Indonesian police practices or those who pay them:

Though significant steps have been taken to fight it, the culture of corruption in Indonesia continues to be widespread.  It affects the day-to-day life of anyone who drives a car or motor bike.  Commonly seen in places such as South Sulawesi are traffic check-points which are set-up by police with the sole purpose of extorting small amounts of money from hundreds of drivers.  A driver might be cited for a faulty turn signal, but a small payment will defer a policeman from a making a formal write-up.

A foreign national could find themselves in such a situation, or pulled over for a justifiable traffic infraction just as well.  Customary practice dictates that paying-off a policeman will almost always “make the problem go away.”  If one chooses not to pay, then a formal ticket will be issued and a date for court appearance will be made. 

Appearing before court for a minor traffic offense is considered a much worse option than paying off the policeman involved. It is almost unheard of an Indonesian appearing in traffic court for a menial violation.  Avoiding court is something to be avoided at all costs as pay-offs inside the justice department will most likely ensue.  Better pay the policeman than the judge!