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Unsafe at Any Speed

Editorial: Itís Time Bali Drivers Be Held Accountable for the Way They Drive.

(9/9/2011) The tragic fatal accident on the road between Jakarta and Bandung that claimed the life Virginia Anggraini, the wife of national Dangdut performer, Saipul Jamil, bears closer examination for its possible implications on road safety in Bali.

In that accident, Anggraini was killed when she was thrown from a Toyota Avanza being driven on a toll-road by her celebrity husband. While police continue to investigate the case, it seems an inescapable conclusion that Jamil was in command of a car designed for only 6 passengers, but severely overloaded with 10 passengers. Carrying a weight load that exceeded the manufacturers recommendations for safe handling and with more people than seat belts, Jamil was breaking the law the very moment when he entered the public roadways, making him legally culpable in the death of his wife.

While Saipul Jamil has suffered a tragic loss in the demise of his wife, Article 310 of Law No. 22 of 2009 is clear that unintended negligence in operating a motor vehicle that results in the loss of life is punishable with a fine of up to Rp. 12 million (US$1,365) and 6 years in prison.

Was the accident unintentional? Clearly. And the law makes that distinction, doubling the penalty to 12 years when death and injury results from intentional reckless endangerment. 

Road Safety in Bali

At the risk of sounding uncaring at this  tragic juncture in the young singing star's life, we hope that Jamil is held legally accountable for the seeming reckless endangerment that caused the death of his wife. However of even greater importance, we hope that traffic officials in Bali would use a successful prosecution of Jamil for manslaughter as a starting point in a stricter application Law No. 22 of 2009 in order to improve road safety in Bali.

Bali is in danger of winning the unwanted distinction of becoming the deadliest holiday destination in Asia with between 100- 200 traffic fatalities on the island’s roads each month. While the madness and mayhem of driving in Bali make interesting fodder for dinnertime anecdotes, the bittter reality is that the insane antics on the island's roadways invariably brings those of us  who live on the island for any period of time to the graves and funeral pyres of  friends and colleagues who have died in traffic accidents.

Laws are written to remedy societal ills. A non-compromising enforcement of the traffic laws in Bali has the potential of bringing  about tidal change in the arrogant impunity on display everyday on Bali's roadwats. That impunity can be brought to a rapid end through the strict enforcement of Law No. 22 of 2009. Once this is done, the body count at local hospitals and morgues is almost certain to decline.

Imagine if injuries or loss of life caused through bad driving practice in Bali carried with it a "high certainty" of imprisonment. Would high profile stories in Bali media about bad drivers serving time in jail for killing or injuring people while texting SMS messages;  being intoxicated; carrying more than 2 people on a motorcycle; riding a motorcycle without a helmet; or going the wrong way down a one-way street actually deter people from such dangerous behavior?

We think it would.

In fact, it can be argued that the reckless disoplays that are so much a part of the Bali driving experience is the direct outcome of the pervasive feeling that there are few rules on Bali's road that can't be "sorted out" through the venality of a local officer of the law.

In the face of the growing carnage on Bali roads, it's high time the police do their job and adopt an uncompromising stance on enforcing traffic rules.

Our lives and the lives of our tourist visitors depend on it.

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