Our National Tragedy

Six hundred and sixty one families were grieving instead of celebrating this Idul Fitri. That’s the number of recorded road deaths during mudik, the annual exodus of people across the country from their adopted hometowns to their family villages.

More than half of those who perished where riding motorcycles, police said. Shockingly, the overall figure is 33 percent higher than last year’s mudik road deaths.

Increasing economic prosperity among the lower levels of society and the widespread availability of cheap motorbikes that can be had for the smallest of deposits and easy credit terms means there are more people on motorbikes than ever before. In Bali alone motorbike-related deaths have been rising in line with the increasing number of the vehicles on our roads.

Notwithstanding people’s general ignorance of road rules, their preference to bypass official rules in obtaining driving licences – regulations that require them to at least take driving-theory tests – and the breakneck speed on roads, there exists the perennial difficulty that ensures drivers and riders of all kinds of vehicles generally get away with road violations.

Here we speak of the ongoing failure of the country’s police force to do its job in maintaining safety on our roads and enforcing traffic laws when they are (frequently) broken. If during this year’s mudik, policing levels were adequate right across the country, if officers were stationed at key traffic points and if those officers took swift action when someone was errant, the severe death toll would surely not have been so high.

This year’s death toll at Lebaran is a national tragedy, yet little has been said about it and there has been almost no debate and no holding anyone to account for this massive failure in public safety. Until the people responsible for upholding and enforcing the country’s laws actually act, instead of looking in the other direction, disasters of our own making such as this will continue to happen.

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