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Die another holiday
Publication Date : 24-08-2012
The death toll from traffic accidents involving holiday revellers travelling to and from their hometowns across Indonesia for Eid-ul-Fitr (locally known as Idul Fitri) had reached a staggering 574 as of Tuesday, with the police predicting the worst was yet to come as the reverse flow of the exodus will only conclude this weekend.
As usual, north and south coast roads along Java and alternative routes popular among the holidaymakers travelling across the densely populated island contributed the most to the number of accidents with 1,732 out of 3,291 cases. National Police data shows 220 were killed on the busy routes.
Fatal road accidents have always plagued the annual exodus. Last year, the government recorded 4,259 traffic accidents that claimed 710 lives, compared with 3,010 crashes and 746 deaths in 2010.
The police data also revealed that motorcycle riders have consistently been more vulnerable to the accidents over the past few years. Around 70 per cent of the accidents involved two-wheel vehicles, which have become the preferred mode of transportation among lower income families as they could not afford to buy bus or train tickets.
A number of corporations, government institutions and political parties provided free buses and the Navy operated its vessels without charge, but they were far from enough to accommodate all the impoverished families.
Looking beyond the statistics, the road accidents should provide the nation with cause for concern, not only because of the loss of so many lives, but also their real impact on the economy. Thousands of children will lose breadwinners, putting their education and, hence, their futures at risk.
The National Development Planning Agency estimated in 2010 that traffic accidents cut the country's gross domestic product (GDP) by more than 200 trillion rupiah (US$21.3 billion) a year.
Doubts cast by the chairman of the Indonesian Transportation Community, Danang Parikesit, over the government's commitment to the safety of holidaymakers rings true and begs a concrete response.
Although compliance with traffic regulations play a major part in the traffic accidents and human fatalities caused, the government's failure to uphold the Traffic Law has exacerbated the problem, according to Parikesit. The spectacle of a family of four travelling on a motorbike carrying luggage has become commonplace despite the fact that the Traffic Law bans this type of dangerous riding.
The government has predicted that 2.5 million motorcycles carrying 4 million holiday revellers roam mostly across Java prior to and after Eid.
Strict enforcement of the Traffic Law against high-risk motorcycle rides will require the government to provide more fleets of cheap modes of mass transportation, be it trains, buses or ferries which, of course, will sap more state money. While allowing more buses to transport the holidaymakers will only worsen traffic gridlock, allocating more budget funds to operate more trains and vessels looks more feasible.
The Transportation Ministry predicted a 16 per cent surge in the number of passengers to 2.21 million during this year's Eid vacation compared with last year. Transportation infrastructure projects to complete double-track railways connecting the western and eastern tips of Java will help to move people from buses, cars and motorcycles onto trains during future Eid festivities.
All the government needs to do in order to reduce road accidents, not only during Eid but year round, is to have the will to spend more on mass transportation. This will keep those who safely reached home during this year's Eid from dying on another holiday.