Monday, February 05, 2007

if I said I'd lost my way / would you sympathise

As a kiddie, I grew up with the themes of road safety relentlessly drummed into me. We learned to repeat by rote, things like “look right, look left, look right again”. As I grew I was subject to countless public campaigns on television, billboards, and via every other conceivable media, to drive slowly; look left; always stop at signs; belt up; slow down; don’t drink and drive; keep my distance; and countless other themes designed to keep not only me, but everyone on the roads safe. These were driven home by marauding traffic police zealously, and it’s only right to say, fairly enforcing the rules. Of course the huge chink in this is, that in western terms, New Zealand’s drivers are appalling; and the roads are seemingly designed to ensure maximum traffic bloodshed.

Those last two factors used to make me very angry…that is until I came to Bali, and Indonesia as a whole. Before I go any further its only fair to point out that if Indonesians paid petrol and road tax at the same level as we do in New Zealand then the Jalans may well be in a better state than they are here on Bali.

But probably not….the tax on cars is very high and the annual registration fee is about three times that charged in New Zealand, where people earn perhaps twenty times as much on average. You can’t help but concluding that no matter how much was directed to road funding and maintenance, the traffic lights would not work on this island (and when they do they are behind a tree or pointed into the air); there would still be huge holes in the centre of roads for weeks (there has been a dislodged curb stone jutting right out into a lane in Sunset Road….a major thoroughfare…beside a Police booth, for over a year); and any new roads built would be uneven and disintegrating within weeks of opening.

Cynical, me?

So with that in mind I thought about the various road safety campaigns I’ve been privileged enough to witness being implemented here over the past eighteen months or so.

  1. The first one I remembered seeing was the attempt, at quite a number of intersections to educate the driving public (the walking public, unless they are stupidly naïve would be wise to ignore this) in the proper reaction to a pedestrian crossing. Signs were clearly and strategically placed telling drivers to give way to the crossing public. Bear in mind that Bali has more pedestrian crossings than I have ever seen in my life anywhere. They are everywhere, including every two hundred metres or so on the new, take your life in your hands even driving on it, let alone crossing it, freeway thingy up the East Coast. To date, I have never seen a car or a motorbike stop, or even contemplate stopping on a Zebra crossing anywhere in Bali, including the one by the arrivals at the airport where unaware, jet lagged tourists are forced to jump quickly to avoid the Kiljangs bearing down on them at some speed.
  2. Then there was the helmets on motorbikes thingy. This is currently being revisited. It is, I believe, now illegal to ride, or be a passenger on a Sepeda Motor without a helmet. Suffice to say, that on most roads here 90% of all riders and passengers remain bareheaded. And more often than not, child safety on a bike consists of a beanie and a pair of cheap sunglasses whilst junior stands between Mum & Dad as the bike roars down the bypass at quite some speed. What does bemuse me too, are the number of tourists who think that it’s either clever or attractive to go bare-chested, or wearing very, very little, on a bike in the traffic mayhem. Chances are that body will not so beautiful for long, as the casualty clinics will attest to.
  3. A few weeks back came the campaign to get bike riders to stop and look at intersections before they speed without a glance into traffic…..ha….sure….I’m impressed by the absolute blind faith this shows…or something.
  4. One of my favourites was the campaign, of recent, telling folks that motor bikes should be ridden in the inside lane only, leaving the outside lane for 1) cars, 2) monstrous belching buses full of the Jakarta Hari Raya massive, and 3) the obscenely overloaded and unstable giant trucks that scream through built up areas at 100kpm blasting their fog horns at all who get in their way.
  5. But the best has to be the current push, via the media, to get all motor bikes to keep their lights on at all times, day or night. This of course, is not only standard practice, but indeed the law, in much of the world (as are road fitness checks on all vehicles), and to me makes quite some sense. Now, one needs to bear in mind that a large percentage of bikes on the road see fit to do quite the opposite, leaving their lights off, not only during the day but at night as they pull, without looking, with no helmets, and anak-anak standing, into the traffic. I’m not sure if the populace bought into this one. Despite substantial advertising, I’ve yet to see a bike lit in the daytime.

Of course, all of this is being attentively enforced and encouraged on a day to day basis. Yeah, sure…the only checks you see, and its actively and aggressively pursued, are the monotonously regular driver’s Licence checks. All of which are issued only on the basis of having paid a fee. Thus, of course, the ownership of which contributes absolutely nothing to road safety. But II bet there’s lunch money in those checks….

This all sounds a bit self righteous, from the keyboard of a snarky expat, so it’s only fair to mention the very odd case of McDonald’s (as in the purveyor of those slabs of gourmet warm coagulated fat between two bits of sugary cardboard, not the family down the road from us in Auckland) and their long term sponsorship in New Zealand of school road safety campaigns. For some twenty years, youth TV was full of images of our Ronald and a bunch of smiling policemen pushing seatbelts and the like to the kiddies. The assumption was that, in order to have such massive tag onto the campaign over so many years, they were paying a big chunk of the $8 million spent each year. Last year it turned out they’d been paying only $40k a year to the Police for the tie in, which included not only the TV campaign, which in the commercial world would’ve cost hundreds of thousands, perhaps millions each year, but massive in-school branding which tied McDs to the concept of safety and the Police.

Corruption in Indonesia? We are all quick to condemn but I bet there were a few complimentary rounds of Big Macs supporting this little deal over the years.