They move to and fro, in an invisibly coordinated dance. Cars, motorbikes, trucks and buses, moving in a rhythm and cadence that at once appear both choreographed and yet chaotic. Their drivers appear to have a mutual understanding of where to move, when to adjust their speed, when to yield and when to lead.
We have traveled in many places where the traffic rules differ considerably from those in the U.S. Sometimes the movement seems forced and awkward. At other times it appears completely rude. And occasionally it feels so uncaring and industrial.
But something about Jakarta feels different. Talking with one of my Indonesian friends there, I mentioned this observation. She told me there are very few accidents. This surprised me.
“Why is this the case?” I inquired.
“We drive much more slowly than in the States,” she offered. “We take into account the distance, how much time it usually will take, and then add more. You know, Jakarta traffic is crazy.”
That is true. The roads seemed constantly filled, and motorcycles – some with up to four people, an entire family – weave skillfully in and out among the cars. Über, Grab and Go- Jek offer ride-sharing to take you anywhere for a small price. And their drivers offer their passengers helmets, now the standard by law in Jakarta.
The motorcycles line up at the front of every intersection when the light turns red. They do obey the traffic rules, but the way they, along with cars, slide behind and in front of vehicles to pass is part of the dance. It seems smooth and seamless.
Our driver, Pak Umar, seemed to take everything in stride. He did not get angry as a motorcycle or two slid in front of him. He nudged in front of several other vehicles himself. There was no angry shouting, no sense that one’s “rights” had been infringed, no road rage. At least as far as we could tell.
American Driving Approach
When we drive in America, I feel as if we take an assertive, “I’m going where I intend to go and don’t even think of getting in my way” approach. Very individualistic. If we get cut off, we feel as if our “rights” have been violated; we can get angry, with a sense that some injustice has been committed against us.
Maybe I’m the only one who feels this way?
I'm not a particularly confrontational person, but I’ll confess – I’ve felt this more than once in my life. I’ve learned to “let it go,” but occasionally it takes awhile for me to let it pass.
Now I’m realizing how culturally bound my response has been.
Driving As A Life Metaphor
Dancing through the traffic in Jakarta has helped me get a vision for a better way. I’m not talking about driving in a manner that continually cuts off other people. Rather, it’s more of a group-culture approach to the simple task of driving.
It’s to no one’s benefit to cause a traffic accident. My experience moving through the streets of Jakarta, albeit in the back of a vehicle, has convinced me of the value of yielding to the dance. The message I come away with through this seemingly simple experience is the value of recognizing we’re for one another’s good.
And, although I don’t expect major changes on U.S. highways anytime in the future, I can take this lesson and apply it to my own mindset in a myriad of other areas.
The Jakarta dance can become a metaphor for life – moving through each day with a mindfulness of the moment, of others, and of how we interact, giving and taking, aiming for the greater good.
Have you ever thought of driving in this way? How does it work in your country?