Driving scooter in Bali

Reason for this Article

Every semester there are plenty of accidents which could have been avoided. To make sure you know what to pay attention to, we decided to create this article. Here we go.
Unlike in Europe, there is no well-developed public transport system in Bali (bus, train, tram, metro). The streets are crowded with scooters and cars. Of course there are taxis which can bring you from point A to B quite cheap, but in the long run using taxis can get expensive and nerve-wracking. Taxis can only drive quite slow in this dense traffic. Driving a scooter is the easiest, fastest and cheapest means of transportation and it also offers a high and level of fun and independence. Many of the former exchange students end up missing the feeling of freedom when they return to their home country and have to use a car or public transport again.

Traffic Rules

The traffic regulations we are used to are insignificant in Indonesia. The traffic here has its own dynamics which you have to learn first. It’s a well-practiced flow which demands mutual regard and full concentration. You have to be aware of the other drivers and communicate with them by using signs.
In general, the traffic here is left-handed. There are no traffic signs, street markings or pedestrian crossings at all, therefore you need to follow the traffic light system or policemen controlling the traffic at bigger crossroads. As in western countries, a green traffic light means you can go, but you should be very careful when starting as there are many impatient people still crossing the street when their traffic light has already turned red.

Saving money and Trouble

Even though it’s mandatory to wear a helmet, many Indonesians neglect it for cost reasons. The local police are very strict about this rule especially when it comes to tourists and therefore issuing hefty fines for not abiding it. Not only because of the fines, but also for security reasons, we absolutely recommend everyone driving a scooter here to buy a proper helmet.
The police also gain a lot of money by issuing fines for not having an international driver’s license. This is why we recommend you to get one in advance (the price depends on the issuing country) and to always have it with you when driving. The majority of locals neither have a driver’s license, nor did they ever attend any driving classes but they have already been driving scooter from an early age as scooters are the only real Balinese means of transportation; really everyone and everything is being transported on scooters. Although risky passing manoeuvres might seem impressing, you simply don’t have the locals’ experience and shouldn’t try copying it. Also please avoid overtaking by using the pavement, as often these might either end abruptly or some parts might be missing.

Communications

The consistent honking of the horns by the drivers might be disconcerting and requires some getting used to. You may think that the drivers are annoyed and honk to vent their anger. But unlike in most western countries, the honking is not an aggressive alert signal but instead a signal to attract attention in many ways. It may mean “Look out, I’m driving out of this low-visibility curve”, “I am going to overtake you” or at the crossroads, “Wait, let me drive first”.
If there is plenty of traffic it might happen that you miss the chance to make a crossing during green light as you weren’t driving fast enough. An easy handy sign can help. Do it as you would when driving a bicycle, just point to the direction you want to go to with your hand and wave a bit. Because of this, the other drivers will understand that you want to cross the road and will let you pass. As you can see, the traffic in Bali is very intuitive and rules are quite easy. The basics will be easy to learn.

Accidents

On the streets of Bali, you will find different obstacles everywhere: dogs, cats, cattle and other scooters trying to overtake from both sides. These are only a few of the things that might make you lose control over your scooter. This is why your full attention and concentration is required in the traffic. Even though drinking and driving should be a strict no-no, here it’s unfortunately happening all the time. In previous semesters many accidents had to do with alcohol. The accidents ranged from a few minor scratches to fatalities! A drunken accident can ruin the complete semester abroad which was meant to be the best time of your life instead. We sincerely ask you to stick to this rule and to keep other students from driving when they are drunk! As taxis are very cheap in Bali you should focus on your health. If you like to party a lot, you may wish to choose accommodation closer to Kuta and Seminyak instead of for example Jimbaran. To minimize the risk of accidents you should always try to drive in a clear line and avoid moving the handlebar too fast or stopping suddenly. You should also take a look over your shoulder before making a turn. Many of the students have a few smaller accidents, but in these cases you should try to learn from your mistakes and keep driving. If you keep in mind these few rules, you will have a bunch of fun on your scooter and will love to drive everywhere.If there is plenty of traffic it might happen that you miss the chance to make a crossing during green light as you weren’t driving fast enough. An easy handy sign can help. Do it as you would when driving a bicycle, just point to the direction you want to go to with your hand and wave a bit. Because of this, the other drivers will understand that you want to cross the road and will let you pass. As you can see, the traffic in Bali is very intuitive and rules are quite easy. The basics will be easy to learn.

Advice for people who are afraid of driving

Being afraid of driving a scooter in the beginning is completely normal. Many of the students who arrive here are afraid at first, as there are just so many new things to learn: the left-hand traffic, bad street conditions, too much hectic traffic etc. If that’s the case for you, just take step by step ;-). You can use the first days to sit at the back of someone else’s scooter and help the driver to navigate. This is how you can watch the traffic and you will lose the fear of the chaos. On the first sight it looks worse than it actually is. Afterwards you should learn how to drive yourself. Most of the scooters are automatic, so you only need to accelerate and brake. Very easy!
It’s better to practice on smaller side streets first or at the parking lot of the university after the lectures are over. If you feel ready to drive on the bigger streets, just stick to the left side so you can only be overtaken from one side. If you are turning to the right, try to drive next to a car and use it as protection or drive in a convoy of other scooters. If you are still afraid of driving scooter now, you can take a speedboat to Nusa Lembongan and rent a scooter there. The island is tiny, there is almost no traffic and for sure then you’ll finally learn how to drive a scooter!

Advice for driver who think they can drive perfectly

After a certain time in Bali you may have the feeling that you know the traffic inside out and can drive a scooter very well, and you end up becoming sloppy and speeding like crazy. Sometimes you might also drive when you’ve had some drinks and later also when you’re completely drunk. This is the phase when most of the bad accidents start to happen. The drivers who are still being careful even after having been driving for months often only have little scratches.

Summary

All in all you can reduce the balinese traffic rules to some main points:

  • concentration and paying attention
  • avoid moving the handlebar too fast
  • look over your shoulder instead of just checking the side mirrors
  • predictive driving, the driver in front of you is always right!
  • honk to call attention

How to get to University

Most of you will study at Udayana University in Jimbaran at the international campus. If you are new in Bali you may wonder how to get there. We can help you out:

1. Map

GPS coordinates: -8.799512, 115.167976