Sat, 29 Oct 1994

The same old culprits

Living in a country where drivers have yet to learn to respect human life, perhaps we could be expected not to be that shocked by a recent police report saying that the new traffic law was not as effective as had been expected. During the first year of its implementation, the new law was only able to cut the number of traffic accidents by 4.20 percent.

The law itself provoked heated debates here when it was put into effect last year because of the high fines it stipulates. But the authorities, who seem to pin so much hope on the stern penalties' taming the reckless drivers, remain unmoved. The law and its fines will stay in place.

The police announced early this week, that during the first year of the law's enforcement -- from September 1993 up through last month -- traffic accidents declined from the 17,989 recorded during the same period of the previous year to 17,234, but the number of deaths on the road during the same period of time rose by 1.85 percent.

As has been predicted by many people, Jakarta is the worst city as far as traffic is concerned and the culprits in most traffic catastrophes are reckless drivers. During the one-year period of the law's enforcement reckless drivers caused 92.52 percent of the total number of accidents. Ironically, many of these men behind the wheels managed to paralyze the Jakarta public transportation system when they went on strike to protest the harsher fines recently.

The problem now is how to humanize these demons on wheels so that innocent lives can be spared. Many people have blamed the police for making driver's licenses very easy for people, whose sense of responsibility has not been tested, to get. But the police authorities have denied this as unfair. They say that during driving tests, most people prove themselves to have adequate skills for the job. What more can the police be held responsible for screening?

The police blame the owners of public transportation companies, who employ new drivers without conducting any kind of test to determine whether or not the applicant meets set criteria. There have been many examples of this thoughtlessness on the part of the firms. The police officials say the best one is the Metromini bus driver whose overloaded bus plummeted into the muddy and heavily polluted Sunter River in North Jakarta last March killing 33 people.

According to police, the driver -- who had a driver's license issued outside of the capital -- had just arrived in Jakarta when he was immediately given responsibility to drive amid the confusing jumble of traffic signs and its specific traffic conditions. The police also see another problem with the drivers. They have found many of them drinking tuak (homemade liquor) while taking a rest or waiting for passengers. The habit has made them even more reckless.

The bus drivers, on the other hand, claim that they drive like hell because they are driven by the devil of daily rental payments to the owners of the buses. And whenever they cannot drive themselves, they lend their buses to unauthorized persons who in their turn cause accidents.

It seems that with or without a new traffic law this country continuously finds itself at a loss as to how to solve the drivers' problems.

Perhaps what the authorities should do is focus on the system itself and do something concrete about reforming it.