Dangers of Driving in Medan

When drivers in a particular city admit to dangerous driving, you best believe that it is exactly how they drive.

"How bad could it be?" I thought, as I observed buses and trucks swerving abruptly in and out of traffic, constantly accelerating to overtake large trailers while avoiding smaller vehicles like motorcycles and becaks. Their skillful maneuverings would make you think that they will have no problem driving even with their eyes closed.

As it turns out, the driving skills of the Medanese drivers are indeed very frightening. Motorcyclists, bus and angkot drivers do not stop at red light. Vehicles do not slow down for crossing pedestrians. Speeding apparently is not an issue and the practice of bribing of authorities is rampant, hence allowing reckless drivers to evade penalties.

One of the most memorable moments during my stay here was having to listen to the unceasing honking, while observing the reason behind each honk. If you have been to Ho Chi Minh, the sounding of horns from tens and hundreds of motorcycles is probably the most unpleasant and annoying thing to go through, but the Vietnamese honk for a reason - to let others know that they are getting into the way. Medanese drivers however, are one-of-a-kind. I have been on buses, trucks, angkots, bechaks, vans, motorcycles, cars, and cabs to know enough that most of the time, people honk for absolutely no reason at all.

I was sitting at the back of a van one fine day when I was en route to Bukit Lawang, and I started jotting down the faintest, most possible reasons as to why Medanese drivers would push the horn. If the following reasons make absolutely no sense to you, fret not, because even a local friend of mine agreed that honking here can be purposeless and just purely for the sake of honking. *shrugs*

Honking in Medan could mean many things and anything, and here are some of the possible explanations. Based on my observation, it could mean:
  • "Hi!"
  • "Incoming!"
  • "Move, I'm overtaking you"
  • "How is your mother doing today?"
  • Nice weather, huh?"
  • "Motherf*cker!"
  • "Fatherf*cker!"
  • "See you soon!"
  • "Tell your wife I sent my regards"
  • "Oh, it's just me accidentally pressing the horn while trying to light up this cigarette"
  • "I am just honking to the rhythm of this Joget music"

Despite the endless honking and utter impatience, the Medanese drivers are surprisingly very calm. (I can't believe I've just used impatience and calm in one sentence, but it's the truth). Instead of getting upset, stressed up and mad, these friendly people would flash a smile and wave at those who honked them. During my stay, I have witnessed so many minor accidents but not a single incident of road rage. People here are just so.... impatiently nice.


crazy medan drivers

The driver on the right ran across the street and nudged me from the outside of the bus that I was in so I could take a picture of him and his friend. He did not ask me to send him a copy.


Despite all the negative comments from travel forums and cautioning by concerned locals, my stay in Medan and other parts of North Sumatra has been absolutely pleasant and everyone was just so incredibly nice and lovely.

I would definitely come back to this city one day!

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