Link to Profile Semperoper, Dresden Sieg (auf dem Siegesäule), Berlin Brandenburg Tor, Berlin Skyline, Frankfurt am Main

Sunday, April 09, 2006

I Can't Drive 65

America has these nice, big superhighways built for speed, and rather than live free, the people let themselves be held back to 65 or 70 mph. That's less than 130 kmh, which is the standard for most of western europe. Can you picture Americans actually allowing themselves to be second to the French in something?

Doesn't really matter, because from what I have seen, the posted speed limits are purely advisory. I am one of the few idiots actually adhering to a speed somewhere around the 5 or so mph they let you get away with if clocked. I just don't have the energy to explain a german drivers license to a local cop, much less why an American citizen would have one instead of an American license ... it would probably take three days in a holding cell before Homeland Security confirmed that it is a possible combination of credentials.

So I drive "slow." 70 mph or so. Thank heaven for cruise control. I'm so accustomed to doing roughly 110 mph to 120 mph on the Autobahn that the sight-picture of traveling at 70-mph is disconcertingly annoying.

When I was a child, we were regaled with tales of how German Autobahns are built for speed. I can tell you from experience that this is rarely the case. I can think of at least a dozen stretches where they are banked to toss you off the road if you are going too fast. They Autobahn was also fabled to have long stretches of straightaway that could double as runways for NATO aircraft in event of Soviet invasion. Yeah, perhaps, but not in too many places.

And many of the Autobahns narrow down to 2 lanes very quickly outside major metropolitan areas, with the effect that through most of the countryside you will be lucky to get above 160 kmh as a chain of slow-movers dominate the left lane for fear that they won't be able to get back into it if they relinquish it. Don't think of passing on the right, which by the way has become a commonplace part of highway driving in America despite being illegal in most states. In Germany there are still plenty of people who will turn you into the authorities, and this offense will cost you your license. (more and more people are doing it, however, especially around Frankfurt, which is populated with Bankers driving SUVs, and we all know that the laws don't apply to them!)

As for roadway markings, you have to cross the border into places like France, Netherlands, or Belgium to get a fuller appreciation of how bad german roadway markings are. At night, in Germany one can rarely see the lane marker strips ... hardly inspires confidence to go 200 kmh. Well, that's the idea ... they don't give you an explicit speed limit, so they "calm" traffic by other means, like making it impossible to see the road at night, especially in the rain. This doesn't really "calm" things however, with the result being far more spectacular accidents when they do happen. As for lighting, the last time I drove through Belgium, the highway was lit from Brussels to the border, but I entered a world of darkness from thereon. But I could drive really fast if I wanted to. Suffice it to say, German traffic engineers hate Germans.

This post could go on for ages about other things like traffic lights. For example, if you pull up to the stop-line in Germany, it is practically impossible to see the light if you are the lead driver ... I sometimes wonder if they do this to give the other, following drivers an excuse to vent their pent-up frustration through the horn (at least in France they have mini-lights lower down the post that can be comfortably seen by the lead driver). And in Germany, if you make a right turn at a light and that light is red, you stop in the intersection, meaning maybe one other car behind your, or perhaps none, can make the turn until the light changes again. As for right turn on red, forget it. It doesn't exist in Germany.

Meanwhile in America, with wide-laned roads built for speed, everone is chugging along at only 80 mph.


Blogger Jill said...

Ok, I don't have the time right now to read the rest of your posts and find out your whole story, but I am likewise intrigued. I'll be back.

4:48 PM, April 10, 2006  
Blogger Mike B said...

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4:14 AM, April 12, 2006  
Blogger Mike B said...

This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

4:18 AM, April 12, 2006  

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