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  #1  
Old 07-09-2004, 10:23 PM
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drbmw drbmw is offline
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The AutoBahn. Speed or Stau

For those of you who have never driven the Autobahn, here is a brief account of this famous German way of life. The autobahn speed limits are centrally controlled throughout Germany. Based on traffic and road conditons, there are electronic speed limits posted along the way as you drive. During heavy traffic or rainy conditions, they may post a top speed limit of, say 100 km per hour. On longer straighter sections where traffic is light and the weather and driving conditions are ideal, they will post the "null" sign, which is a zero with a slanted line through it. Thats means no posted speed limit, so go as fast as you dare. So all these speed limit indicators are electronicaly posted along the autobahn, and can change hour to hour depending on driving conditons. Now, there are usually 3 lanes on the Autobahn. The far right is reserved for semi-truck use. They are allowed to pass in the middle lane, but are not allowed to drive on the far left lane. The far left lane is, of course, the fast lane. A lot of people driving the fast lane put on there left blinker, signaling to those ahead that they are hauling *ss. If you're travelling in the left lane, you should be looking in the rearview mirror frequently to spot these speed demons, who are usually driving Porsches. If they come upon you and you don't yield, you'll get the "licht hube", or light horn. Nothing more than flashing their headlights at you. The left lane is truely reserved for the faster drivers. You never see some idiot driving slowly in the left lane and holding up traffic, unlike what I witness in the USA almost on a daily basis on the interstates. It really spoils a person. The middle lane is used for all the cars that want to travel at reasonable speeds without worrying about the additional stress of driving in the left lane.

Interestingly, the Germans have this hand signal called "der Vogel", which translates to the bird. It means: you crazy idiotic SOB, or something like that. From people flipping each other off with the bird, it has caused alot of accidents, thanks to the resultant road rage of drivers. My mom and I once took a taxi from the Berlin airport. The taxi driver we had got into it with another taxi driver, and they suddenly were trying to cause each other to get into an accident, with me and my Mom in the car. The other taxi positioned himself in front of ours at hiway speeds, and then slammed on the brakes, causing us to come to a screeching halt. We screemed at our taxi driver to spare us our lives, and he finally conceeded. Needless to say, a few "birds" were exchanges betweeen the two drivers. Anyway, as I understand it, giving someone the bird while driving is illegal and fineable.

So, driving on the Autobahn must be a blast, right? Well, kind of. When you see the null sign and take your car to its safe limits, there is no bigger rush that I know of. When we rented a 5 series for three weeks a few years ago, I had that car up to 128 mph and drove at that speed for about 5 minutes before coming into traffic. Traffic is the problem. There are fewer and fewer times during the daytime when the Autobahns have light traffic. Usually, you are listening to the radio for traffic reports, which give you warning about upcoming "Stau", or stop and go traffic. That gives you time to get off the autobahn and use the country roads as detour routes. That saved us a few times from getting stuck in some bad Stau. Sometimes, you sit in Stau for a long time. Nothing else to do but kill your engine and get out of your car and wait it out. So travelling on the Autobahn is not usually the no holds barred high speed travel that everyone thinks it is. There are 82 million people stuffed into a country the size of Wisconsin. That's alot of cars and trucks on the hiways. Incidentally, truck travel is not allowed on the weekends, except with a special permit. So you find mostly cars and motorcycles on the Autobahn on the weekends.

So, I lived through the best and worst of the Autobahn during the six weeks of driving I have experienced in my lifetime (both times in a 5 series). There were plenty of times where you "cruise" at 100 mph, which means you are simply keeping up with the rest of the traffic. There were a few times where I got the "null" sign and put the pedal down. I will never forget those times. Those center road stripes zip when you're going in excess of 120 mph. It is a pure white knuckle drive, as your concentration needs to be razor sharp. But, on the other hand, I spent alot of time in Stau, standing next to my bimmer, wondering when traffic would start moving again.

Speeding tickets. There are no "hiway troopers" who trap speeders. The German police doesn't devote its resources with squad cars trying to catch speeders. They have electronic cameras for that. They usually mount them on the other side of bridges, so you can't see them coming. Then, when you are in range you suddenly see a flash of light and know you have been photographed. If the computer determines that you were exceeding the posted speedlimit for that stretch of hiway, you get sent a nice ticket along with a razor sharp photo of your car, with your license plate clearly visible. On my last day of driving the Auobahn, I was inclined to give the 5er engine one final workout. Naturally when I saw the posted speed limit of 130 km per hour, I ignored it. At about 175 km per hour, I was suddenly startled by the light flash that went off as I sped underneath a bridge. The next day as I was boarding my plane, I wondered if I would somehow be notified by my rental car company that I had been caught speeding and fined. I never did hear anything from the German government or the rental car company. Got away with one, there.

Finally, just a tidbit about Autobahn crashes. Their air rescue helicopters are centrally coordinated by zones. Unlike in the USA, a trauma doctor flies with the paramedic / nurse to assist in the stabilization of the trauma victim. Because of all the autobahn accidents, the German medical system is very efficient at providing on-the -cene rescue and evacuation of critcally injured drivers. I witnessed a few times where the helicoper would swoop down and land right on the autobahn, perform life-saving stabilization procedures, and then high-tail it to the nearest trauma center.

All in all the Autobahn is an adventure that I am thankful I got to experience. As Germany is the only country in world that doesn't have permanent limitations on their speed limits, it is truely one awesome experiance to take a passenger car on the open road and watch the countryside zip by you. Especialy when the car you are driving is a bimmer. I'm sure the perspective is quite different on a race track.

Anyway, for those who have never driven the Autobahn, I hope Ihave provided you with a glimpse of what it's all about.
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Old 07-09-2004, 11:05 PM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by drbmw
For those of you who have never driven the Autobahn, here is a brief account of this famous German way of life. The autobahn speed limits are centrally controlled throughout Germany. Based on traffic and road conditons, there are electronic speed limits posted along the way as you drive. During heavy traffic or rainy conditions, they may post a top speed limit of, say 100 km per hour. On longer straighter sections where traffic is light and the weather and driving conditions are ideal, they will post the "null" sign, which is a zero with a slanted line through it. Thats means no posted speed limit, so go as fast as you dare. So all these speed limit indicators are electronicaly posted along the autobahn, and can change hour to hour depending on driving conditons. Now, there are usually 3 lanes on the Autobahn. The far right is reserved for semi-truck use. They are allowed to pass in the middle lane, but are not allowed to drive on the far left lane. The far left lane is, of course, the fast lane. A lot of people driving the fast lane put on there left blinker, signaling to those ahead that they are hauling *ss. If you're travelling in the left lane, you should be looking in the rearview mirror frequently to spot these speed demons, who are usually driving Porsches. If they come upon you and you don't yield, you'll get the "licht hube", or light horn. Nothing more than flashing their headlights at you. The left lane is truely reserved for the faster drivers. You never see some idiot driving slowly in the left lane and holding up traffic, unlike what I witness in the USA almost on a daily basis on the interstates. It really spoils a person. The middle lane is used for all the cars that want to travel at reasonable speeds without worrying about the additional stress of driving in the left lane.


...I had that car up to 128 mph and drove at that speed for about 5 minutes before coming into traffic. Traffic is the problem. There are fewer and fewer times during the daytime when the Autobahns have light traffic. Usually, you are listening to the radio for traffic reports, which give you warning about upcoming "Stau", or stop and go traffic. That gives you time to get off the autobahn and use the country roads as detour routes. That saved us a few times from getting stuck in some bad Stau. Sometimes, you sit in Stau for a long time.... ...So travelling on the Autobahn is not usually the no holds barred high speed travel that everyone thinks it is...


Good write up, but just let me make a few corrections:

When on the autobahn and you come to the un-restricted zones (the sign that's a zero with a slanted line through it), the "gentleman's speed limit" is 130kph, meaning that if anything were to happen while you were driving over that limit, you would be held at fault. Ex: you're haulin' a$$ at 240kph and a truck driver doesn't look in his mirror and cuts you of and you wreck... your fault.

But you are right on about the electronic signs, although were I live I haven't seen too many of them. Think they have most of them in the big citys.

I WISH there were mostly 3 lanes on the autobahn. Again, you'll find this mostly in and around the bigger cities. Were I'm at, there are only 2 lane autobahns, and when you go through the city close to here, the speed limit grinds down all the way to 60kph for a few miles (has to do with an old bridge the autobahn crosses that they just simply won't replace).

You are also right on about the traffic. I can be cruzing at 100Mph just like you and then... there's the Stau.... Not as bad as D.C. Beltway during rush hour, but it can be.

Oh, and your comment about people not driving in the left lane... You're correct, for the most part. What usually happens to me is some slow econo-box will pull out in front of me to pass a truck. This usually happens when I'm driving at about 130-140Mph ( I always drive on the autobahn with my Xenons on, so I know that if they would just look in the mirror, they would see me). Then you have the problem of one truck passing another truck, which is illegal (so I'm told). Guess the guy is in that much of a hurry and a 2Mph speed difference is gonna mean something.

Yeah, with me living over here, it's gonna be VERY hard to get used to driving in the states again. I'm sure that I will get quite a few tickets before I get fully used to the slow speeds in the states.

But that was a good write up. So when's the next time you're coming over here? You'll have to visit the Nuerburgring and have some fun there. Heh heh!
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Old 07-09-2004, 11:29 PM
Stuka Stuka is offline
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And some more corrections.

There is no gentelman's speed limit, there is, however, richtgeschwindigkeit. Hey Alex, how's my German coming along?

It does NOT mean that if you hit someone at faster than 130km/h you are automatically at fault. It does mean that you CAN be held partially responsible if the collision happened at faster than 130 km/h even if it was due to the other driver's bad driving. All because of some anti speed judge.

Oh and here's a tip that's more effective than running Xenon's (most people I know turn on their headlights when going at over 200km/h), the Autobahn bulldozing.

Usually a slow car will signal, check his mirror, then change into the left lane and expect you to brake for them, because of richtgeschwindigkeit. Now, pay attention next time that you drive on the Autobahn. See those cars that do not appear to be slowing down even after the slow car signaled? Yep, you basically keep going at your warp speed. The slow car will signal, check the mirror, start moving over, sees that you are not slowing down, then quickly signal and move back to the lane that it rightly belongs to, allowing you to keep your warp speed. This is a well known secret that most really fast drivers do.

Quote:
Originally Posted by Dirtboy
Good write up, but just let me make a few corrections:

When on the autobahn and you come to the un-restricted zones (the sign that's a zero with a slanted line through it), the "gentleman's speed limit" is 130kph, meaning that if anything were to happen while you were driving over that limit, you would be held at fault. Ex: you're haulin' a$$ at 240kph and a truck driver doesn't look in his mirror and cuts you of and you wreck... your fault.

But you are right on about the electronic signs, although were I live I haven't seen too many of them. Think they have most of them in the big citys.

I WISH there were mostly 3 lanes on the autobahn. Again, you'll find this mostly in and around the bigger cities. Were I'm at, there are only 2 lane autobahns, and when you go through the city close to here, the speed limit grinds down all the way to 60kph for a few miles (has to do with an old bridge the autobahn crosses that they just simply won't replace).

You are also right on about the traffic. I can be cruzing at 100Mph just like you and then... there's the Stau.... Not as bad as D.C. Beltway during rush hour, but it can be.

Oh, and your comment about people not driving in the left lane... You're correct, for the most part. What usually happens to me is some slow econo-box will pull out in front of me to pass a truck. This usually happens when I'm driving at about 130-140Mph ( I always drive on the autobahn with my Xenons on, so I know that if they would just look in the mirror, they would see me). Then you have the problem of one truck passing another truck, which is illegal (so I'm told). Guess the guy is in that much of a hurry and a 2Mph speed difference is gonna mean something.

Yeah, with me living over here, it's gonna be VERY hard to get used to driving in the states again. I'm sure that I will get quite a few tickets before I get fully used to the slow speeds in the states.

But that was a good write up. So when's the next time you're coming over here? You'll have to visit the Nuerburgring and have some fun there. Heh heh!
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Old 07-10-2004, 03:42 AM
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Some years back, a few of us on Messr. Welty's bmw mailing list thought of writing a visitor's guide to the Autobahn. The plan was to involve both newcomers to the system and grizzled veterans so that it could benefit from the imaginative ideas of the one group and the tested experience of the other. I was even going to run drafts by the local Autobahnpolizei. I am pretty sure we could have found some who remember when the Americans were here but who had had enough time to dispassionately recount their adventures and make suggestions. I floated the idea of printing the guide in the Roundel but neither the past nor present editor showed any interest. That's pretty much where we left it.

Would there be any interest, here, in writing such a guide?
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Old 07-10-2004, 07:37 AM
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drbmw drbmw is offline
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Dirtboy
But that was a good write up. So when's the next time you're coming over here? You'll have to visit the Nuerburgring and have some fun there. Heh heh!

I'll be over next summer with my son. See if you can have them finish with all the road construction projects so I don't have to deal with it. I'd appreciate it.

I'd love to visit the Nuerburgring. Where exactly is it located? Do they allow you to drive on it? How much does that cost? Or is there only professonal racing on it?
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Old 07-10-2004, 09:12 AM
ger3sf ger3sf is offline
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I also found autobahns to be as smooth as glass, at least those stretches without speed limits. Less than perfect roadways would not be conducive to 100+mph cruising. Kudos to the German Highway Dept. I wish CalTrans could maintain our highways the same way.
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Old 07-10-2004, 09:51 AM
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Would there be any interest, here, in writing such a guide?
I'd love to read a guide like that!
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Old 07-10-2004, 11:47 AM
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It had been 7 years since my last trip over and I found the Autobahn to be much improved. I'd been warning my wife about stau and bumper to bumper traffic for months and there just wasn't any! Don't know if it was the time of year or what, but things moved much quicker than I remember. Also a lot more unlimited stretches now. They also seem to have cracked down on and eliminated tailgating almost completely...evidently that was the #1 cause of accidents. A guide would be good to have, but a pretty monumental task and then it would have to be up-dated. Good luck if somebody takes it on!
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Old 07-10-2004, 12:07 PM
Alex Baumann Alex Baumann is offline
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Originally Posted by Stuka
Hey Alex, how's my German coming along?
I'm watching the spelling like an eagle

Quote:
Originally Posted by Stuka
This is a well known secret that most really fast drivers do
Never heard that before...
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Old 07-10-2004, 12:40 PM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Stuka
...
Usually a slow car will signal, check his mirror, then change into the left lane and expect you to brake for them, because of richtgeschwindigkeit. Now, pay attention next time that you drive on the Autobahn. See those cars that do not appear to be slowing down even after the slow car signaled? Yep, you basically keep going at your warp speed. The slow car will signal, check the mirror, start moving over, sees that you are not slowing down, then quickly signal and move back to the lane that it rightly belongs to, allowing you to keep your warp speed. This is a well known secret that most really fast drivers do.
And this is why the autobahn has the death rate that it does. Manoeuvres like this carry a very high risk. If the car which intends to pull out does actually pull out, the driver coming up behind will be entirely at fault (unless a witness states that the driver who pulled out did so while the other car was dangerously close). In Germany I saw quite a few people pulling out with room to spare, and the driver coming up in the outside lane *actually accelerating* up behind them, in order to enforce a "kill".

Years ago I got a lift with a friend and his father from Munich to Innsbruck. At 200-odd km/h in his Audi, I asked if he knew when cars or trucks would pull out; he said "I can sense it". He was bullsihtting, of course; he had no more idea than you or I. He was just lucky.
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Old 07-10-2004, 12:49 PM
Alex Baumann Alex Baumann is offline
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Originally Posted by andy_thomas
And this is why the autobahn has the death rate that it does. Manoeuvres like this carry a very high risk. If the car which intends to pull out does actually pull out, the driver coming up behind will be entirely at fault (unless a witness states that the driver who pulled out did so while the other car was dangerously close). In Germany I saw quite a few people pulling out with room to spare, and the driver coming up in the outside lane *actually accelerating* up behind them, in order to enforce a "kill".
Only if one is dumb, don't know what his/her car is capable of, lack the ability to use the brakes efficiently and have no sense for speed , then one has no place on the autobahn. Better use the public transportation for the sake of himself/herself and others.
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Old 07-10-2004, 01:09 PM
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Originally Posted by ger3sf
I also found autobahns to be as smooth as glass, at least those stretches without speed limits. Less than perfect roadways would not be conducive to 100+mph cruising. Kudos to the German Highway Dept. I wish CalTrans could maintain our highways the same way.
Why is it that almighty America builds such crappy hiways? It doesn't matter if you are in Texas or Minnesota. You'd think that the cold winters would be harder on the asphalt becasue of the temeprature changes and salt use. But no, hiways are riddled with potholes all over the country. The Autobahn is smooth as glass in a majority of stretches. Even the country roads are in better shape than what we have got here in the USA. The only issue I've witnessed in Germany are ridges that are driven into the pavement by the heavy trucks along some stretches. Those are eventually fixed. In the US, even new interstate stretches that are rebuilt quickly deteriorate over 10 years. The Germans seem to have it down. I once heard that the Dept. of Transportation was experimenting with building stretches of interstates identical to the German methods. I never heard how successful that trial was. Potholes suck.
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Old 07-10-2004, 02:42 PM
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I believe the roadbed and paving are about twice as thick as our interstates$$$
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Old 07-10-2004, 03:19 PM
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The best road we were on was, honest, the French Autoroute from Germany through Metz/Reims to Paris. Despite the regulated speeds (Mostly ignored, we ran 110mph+ with everybody else) and the outrageous toll booths every 50 kilometers it was the smoothest piece of highway I've ever driven on. Unfortunately, the scenery looked exactly like Kansas on I-70. Ahhh, and then traffic close to Paris!
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Old 07-10-2004, 03:21 PM
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I believe the roadbed and paving are about twice as thick as our interstates$$$
There is a program that shows up on the History Channel now and then about the Autobahn. They do 18" of concrete where we do 10" (?). Makes a difference.
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Old 07-10-2004, 06:28 PM
OBS3SSION OBS3SSION is offline
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Rumor I've heard is that governments in Europe require road builders to guarantee the roads for a number of years. Whereas here in the US, the jobs go to the lowest bidders.

And someone please answer me this: I was told this past week that Germany is eliminating the "null speed limit" zones and enforcing a speed limit on all roads. Is this true?
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Old 07-10-2004, 07:32 PM
Stuka Stuka is offline
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Originally Posted by andy_thomas
And this is why the autobahn has the death rate that it does. Manoeuvres like this carry a very high risk. If the car which intends to pull out does actually pull out, the driver coming up behind will be entirely at fault (unless a witness states that the driver who pulled out did so while the other car was dangerously close). In Germany I saw quite a few people pulling out with room to spare, and the driver coming up in the outside lane *actually accelerating* up behind them, in order to enforce a "kill".
Uh, the Autobahn death rate is HALF of that of the U.S. Interstate, at almost double the average car speed.

I say that is an acceptable death rate for a very efficient transportation system. Certainly much more so that the Motorway or the Interstate.
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Old 07-10-2004, 08:46 PM
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I didn't read your entire autobahn experience, but there are a few things I like to comment on. The Germans are just too much rule oriented on the autobahn. When I was driving them (8 different occasions), I noticed that there were so many warning signs that you couldn't drive a few miles without seeing at least 10 signs. Signs to tell you when to start slowing from posting 130, 100, 60, 60 signs etc. There are signs signaling you how fast you are allowed to accelerate! Come on, I know best when to slow for hazards and when to speed up. Warning signs for day driving speed, night driving speed, speed to pass, speed not to pass, speed to drive when the road has a crown. When to pass, and when not to pass, passing only with care, don't pass if you cannot pass. There are just too many signs to take your attention away from driving. Give me a car, load it with gas, and let my ability and experience take over. The same goes with the many signs in town. Do Germans like signs?
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Old 07-11-2004, 12:30 AM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Alex Baumann
Quote:
Originally Posted by andy_thomas
And this is why the autobahn has the death rate that it does. Manoeuvres like this carry a very high risk. If the car which intends to pull out does actually pull out, the driver coming up behind will be entirely at fault (unless a witness states that the driver who pulled out did so while the other car was dangerously close). In Germany I saw quite a few people pulling out with room to spare, and the driver coming up in the outside lane *actually accelerating* up behind them, in order to enforce a "kill".
Only if one is dumb, don't know what his/her car is capable of, lack the ability to use the brakes efficiently and have no sense for speed , then one has no place on the autobahn. Better use the public transportation for the sake of himself/herself and others.
Except that not everyone driving the Autobahnen have this understanding. Until they do, such manuevers will remain dangerous no matter how good a driver may be. If you can convincingly argue they can be safe there is a former Mercedes test driver who would probably hire you for a large sum to get him out of prison.
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Old 07-11-2004, 12:50 AM
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Originally Posted by Dave 330i
There are just too many signs to take your attention away from driving. Give me a car, load it with gas, and let my ability and experience take over. The same goes with the many signs in town. Do Germans like signs?
Many are certainly keen on having rules. There has been some backlash against too many signs, with some towns and cities uprooting them as a woodsman thins a forest.

You get better at sensing the important messages in the clutter with enough practice. For example, given a clear view ahead, you can recognize the yellow dot of a village sign and get from 110 km/h to speeds no longer interesting to a radar camera without touching the brakes.
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Old 07-11-2004, 01:57 AM
andy_thomas andy_thomas is offline
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Stuka
Uh, the Autobahn death rate is HALF of that of the U.S. Interstate, at almost double the average car speed.

I say that is an acceptable death rate for a very efficient transportation system.
Good for you. The German freeway/motorway fatality rate is nearly three times that of the UK's. I wasn't necessarily comparing Germany to the US...
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  #22  
Old 07-11-2004, 02:45 AM
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Dirtboy Dirtboy is offline
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Quote:
Originally Posted by drbmw
... The Autobahn is smooth as glass in a majority of stretches. Even the country roads are in better shape than what we have got here in the USA.

uhh, try autobahn A8 toward Munich. That is worse than most of the highways in the states... I was on it last night and thought I was gonna break my neck with all the bumps....
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Old 07-11-2004, 04:52 AM
Alex Baumann Alex Baumann is offline
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Quote:
Originally Posted by johnf
Except that not everyone driving the Autobahnen have this understanding. Until they do, such manuevers will remain dangerous no matter how good a driver may be. If you can convincingly argue they can be safe there is a former Mercedes test driver who would probably hire you for a large sum to get him out of prison.
I can't dispute the fact that there is a risk.

As for the Mercedes test driver, by looking at your profile, I am sure that you have read the details of the accident he was involved. The woman and her child, who was killed in the accident, was driving on the left lane in an Autobahn section with 3 lanes. The question remains ; what was she doing on the left lane ?
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  #24  
Old 07-11-2004, 06:41 AM
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johnf johnf is offline
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Alex Baumann
I am sure that you have read the details of the accident he was involved. The woman and her child, who was killed in the accident, was driving on the left lane in an Autobahn section with 3 lanes. The question remains ; what was she doing on the left lane ?
Well, that is the problem. There is a small fraction of people driving the Autobahn who don't, can't, or are unwilling to understand it, and that when stressed, react in a way that doesn't help anyone including themselves. Yes, some of those people could (or should) take the bus or train, but others can't because they live where the network is not good enough. So, tell them to stay on the Landstrasse? I am sure you have seen what happens there: I doubt that would make things any safer.

As long as you have people who are not prepared for high closing speed manuevers, those manuevers are going to be dangerous. It seems to me, that if those who enjoy speed don't recognize and accomodate that fact, eventually the system will. The German Autobahnen will get a general speed limit, like in the U.S., and that would be sad. (I mention the U.S. because there once were no superhighway speed limits in some states, other than, as in Germany, what was "reasonable and proper".)

Last edited by johnf; 07-11-2004 at 06:49 AM.
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  #25  
Old 07-12-2004, 07:26 PM
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drbmw drbmw is offline
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Autobahn accidents in Germany are inevitable in a road system where 100 mph is often the cruising speed. The Germans have taken some steps to make this experience as safe as possible. First, no handheld cellphones can be used while driving. It is illegal. I'm not sure about handsfree cellphones. Second, semi-trucks are not allowed to drive in the left lane. They can pass, but must immediately move over. What a couple of simple yet practical concepts. These would sure work well in the US. Truckers think they own the roads. Careless cellphone drivers are often totally unaware of dangerous and stupid things they do while driving.
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