Indonesian Drivers Urged to Steer Clear of Mobile Use
Drivers are being warned not to use mobile phones behind the wheel in a new government campaign that will involve text messages and alerts on phone cards.
The campaign comes ahead of mudik , the annual exodus from urban centers to rural villages that takes place in the weeks around Idul Fitri, the Muslim holiday that celebrates the end of Ramadan. Idul Fitri this year falls on Aug. 19-20.
In announcing the campaign on Monday, Communication and Information Minister Tifatul Sembiring said: “There is a need for a mass campaign to educate the people about this issue.”
The law prohibits the use of mobile phones while driving.
Millions of people are expected to leave Jakarta for mudik. While some will travel by train or bus, many more will drive their own motorcycles or cars.
The Jakarta Transportation Office estimates that the number of people traveling by train or bus this year will be far lower than last year’s number, largely due to an increase in car and motorcycle ownership.
Tifatul said the campaign will involve telecommunications operators sending out text messages and labeling mobile phone cards and vouchers with warnings of the dangers of speaking on the phone while driving.
Tifatul cited Jakarta Police reports that the number of accidents due to the use of cell phones while driving had significantly increased between 2009 and 2010.
During a seminar on the campaign, Hendro Putroko, secretary of the Land Transportation Directorate at the Transportation Ministry, suggested that besides posing a traffic safety hazard, using a phone while driving caused medical hazards, although he did not elaborate.
According to Transportation Ministry data, during 2010 and 2011, some 62,000 people were killed in traffic accidents.
The National Police recorded 4,006 accidents in the two weeks surrounding Idul Fitri in 2011. The number of accidents had increased by 30 percent from the previous year’s figure of 3,010, but the number of fatalities had decreased to 661, from 746 last year, according to the police.
Edo Rusyanto, the coordinator of activist group Solidarity for Road Safety, welcomed the campaign, but pointed out that it was also the responsibility of cellular phone users to campaign for road safety, including not telephoning while driving.
Edo also called for “more concrete actions and comprehensive supervision” on the government’s part, “so that the cellular industry implements the government’s demands.”
Indonesians are heavy users of mobile phones, with people more likely to access the Internet via a handheld device than a computer.