Saturday, April 24, 2010

Bylaws Will be Bylaws

In Jakarta, abiding by the law basically means that you can break the rules if there isn't a policeman in sight. Nowhere is this lawlessness more obvious than on the roads. You can observe a traffic violation every couple of seconds by simply standing on a street corner. Oddly, the police appear to spend more time directing traffic than they do actually fighting crime. They even have kiosks set up at major intersections. During peak rush hour (which is more like a crawl), police direct traffic at said major intersections. Their main purpose is to ensure that vehicles of all shape and size actually STOP when the light turns red and don't GO until the light turns green. Hard to believe but true. The cops have finally had enough. They are planing on leaving the comfort of their kiosks to do something about it.

For 20-ish days, the police are clamping down on traffic violations, especially those committed by motorbikes and buses. Some of these violations include not wearing an approved Indonesian safety standard helmet, driving the wrong way down the street, motorbikes not having headlights on in the daytime and buses stopping in places where they shouldn't. They plan on issuing fines for these violations. If they do actually fine every one of these infractions, they will be rich as dozens of these infractions occur every minute.

What I find odd isn't that they are fining people for blatantly obvious violations but that they are actually letting people know that they are doing this. So much for the element of surprise. I'd like to personally thank the Jakarta Police for notifying all media outlets of their intentions. In all fairness, it is good that the poor and underprivileged have fair warning so that they can avoid fines. But why would they actually make it a point of telling people that it is only going to be for 20 days? Wouldn't it be wiser to say that they are going to run this crusade indefinitely? Thanks to their warnings, I have started driving with my headlight on during the day and temporarily stopped making illegal u-turns. Dare I say that this clampdown really has no teeth and is nothing much more than a money making scheme?

I'm assuming that after the 20 day crackdown, things will gradually go back to normal and that people will carry on with their bad road etiquette. I'm all for making people wear helmets that actually provide protection but I just don't see this happening. Recently, there are a lot more child size helmets for sale. I won't bother going off on a rant about the irony of dad wearing a helmet and the kids not. I commend the police on making an effort to protect people from themselves but maybe 20 days just isn't enough.

One more thing, without getting into details, I was once detained for not having my passport on me. At one point of my detention, the police put my friends and I in the National Drug Headquarters "war room". There on the bulletin board in plain sight was a map of Jakarta with push pins and strings leading to cards that detailed where and when they planned on doing drug and/or immigration raids. Not one of (ahem) Jakarta's finest sitting in the room with us seemed to mind that we were essentially reading their secrets. Had any of us known any drug dealers etc, we could have been able to tell them exactly when and where they were coming. I can't help but repeat myself: so much for the element of surprise!

You can read more about the clampdown here:

All you motorcyclists out there remember to turn your light on in the daytime for the next week or so....