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Can Roads Be Safer for People in Indonesia?

Sukma Larastiti

4 min read

Road safety is often neglected in Indonesia. But traffic crashes are usually blamed on human error instead of this poor road condition.

Data has shown, however, that lack of road safety is one of the main causes of the high accident rate in this country. Accordingly, making the road safer is becoming more urgent to preserve more lives on the roads, rather than keep blaming on people. 

Recent cases of traffic crashes involving police officers, a regent and a council representative in different places across the archipelago have sparked massive outrage from netizens in Twitter. Five of the eight people involved in these crashes were students riding motorcycles. Three students and two adults ended up dead, while the other survivors were hospitalized with severe injuries, adding to the long list of tragedies of traffic crashes involving young people and contributing to the increasing number of youth victims from traffic crashes in Indonesia. 

Fatality data from 2016 to 2020 by the National General Plan for Traffic and Road Transportation Safety (2022) shows that most of the victims of traffic crashes are 15-34 years, followed by ages of 35-60. Traffic crashes involving motorcycles have the highest fatalities rate (81%) than cars (8%) and trucks (7%). 

The increasing number of youth victims and victims of productive ages have detrimental consequences for the survivors and the families who are left behind because even if those involved in the crashes survive they could become disabled, or in the case fatal crashes, the families could lose people who are the breadwinner for the family altogether.

At the macro level, it also impacts Indonesia’s economy due to relatively high economic loss. Until now, economic loss from traffic crashes reaches 2.9-3.1% of the Indonesian gross domestic product (GDP) or around 448-470 trillion, according to a report by in 2023.

Though the number of traffic crashes were decreased during the pandemic due to activity limitations, there is a possibility of increasing cases of traffic crashes as people have to get back to their normal activities. People need to go to offices as their work requires them to work from the office daily or go outside for other mobility needs. Consequently, there is an increasing use of private vehicles on the road and higher risks of traffic crashes. 

Latent safety risks

Improving road safety in Indonesia, however, is challenging. Our road is designed to prioritize the motorized vehicles’ movement and speed by providing wide travel lanes while disregarding the access to the road for other non-motorized users. This design has latent safety risks. Roads that are designed to facilitate speed will give people lower response time when they are about to crashes, exacerbating the severity of injuries due to the kinetic energy that is received by our body.

The World Health Organization in 2022 records that every 1% increase in mean speed produces a 4% increase in the fatal crash risk and a 3% increase in the serious crash risk. The fatality risk can increase 4.5 times for pedestrians as the car speed up from 50 to 65 kilometers per hour, and an increase of 85% risk for car occupants at 65 kilometers per hour. 

This situation is worse because not all road construction goes through a road safety audit and assessment process. Road safety audits and assessments are commonly present in bigger road construction projects or in case of serious traffic crashes on toll roads or national highways, such as road safety assessment in toll road Cipali or Jalan Lingkar Salatiga (JLS) by the National Transportation Safety Committee (KNKT). 

We face different cases, however, when it comes to local roads as the responsibility to construct and guarantee the road safety is on the local government. Local governments usually have limited financial capacity to fund road projects that are complemented with road safety audits or inspections. So, we have many roads in villages and cities with latent safety risks.

Data from the National General Plan for Traffic and Road Transportation Safety in 2022 shows that local have the highest number of traffic crashes (75.08%) than toll roads and national highways combined (24.92%). Traffic crashes on local roads are less prioritized than toll roads and national highways because they have a lower accident ratio per kilometer distance due to the long road distance in total.

Design for safety

One of the strategies to improve road safety is by designing roads for safety in accordance with safe system principles. Safe system, as summarized from the World Health Organization in 2021, is a system that anticipates and accommodates human errors by incorporating road and vehicle designs that limit crash forces to levels that are within human tolerance to prevent death or serious injury and improving roads and vehicles so that the entire system is made safe rather than just locations or situations where crashes last occurred.

It is a new concept that reverses our understanding of the relationship between road safety and human error, one which we blame whenever there is a traffic crash. It embraces natural things for people: making errors is very humane. 

We are likely to make errors as we get fatigued, stressed, or distracted. It is inevitable in our life. Hence, our road should be able to anticipate our humane sides. It should be “forgiving” by allowing adequate room for rectification of any errors and limiting the damages only or minor recoverable injuries and no life-threatening injuries or fatalities as stated by International Road Assessment Programme.

Three important actions to improve the safety of our road infrastructure in safe system are lowering the road speed limit, reviewing and updating regulation and road design standards by prioritizing the needs of pedestrians, cyclists, and public transport users—which are the weakest road users—and considering road function and ensure road safety audit and assessment for new and existing roads. 

It is recommended to change the urban speed limit to 30 kilometers per hour for safety. Indonesia’s speed limit for activity hubs and urban areas is around 40-50 kilometers per hour, but the real speed can reach 60 kilometers per hour or more as people tend to be speeding in the uncongested and wide road. 

A good road design with lower speed not only can reduce fatalities and serious injuries, but also lower road enforcement. Smart Growth America and the National Complete Street Coalition in their research in 2021 found that a good design for safer roads has the purpose to make dangerous behavior difficult and safe behavior easy. In this sense, in accordance with the Federal Highway Administration, roads should be able to be self-enforced by encouraging drivers to operate motorized vehicles consistently with posted speed limits.

Basically, all these strategies and actions will put the lives of the weakest road users as the priority and main consideration when designing roads. This does not exist in the current Indonesian transport planning and political agenda. Our transport planning and policies are masculine and give priority to the strongest, leaving the weakest behind.

Making our road safer has prerequisites to ensure the safety of the weakest user. But can we change by prioritizing the weakest in our road design? We should address it because it is a fundamental problem in our current transport system. All the technical matters will follow our choices.


Editor: Ghufroni An’ars

Sukma Larastiti
Sukma Larastiti Perempuan yang punya mimpi kecil agar transportasi kita bisa ramah manusia.

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