The German Autobahn

The German Autobahn

The Autobahn is the federal controlled highway system in Germany, world famous for it’s lack of speed limits for around 50% of the total network, although an estimated further 15% of the enforced speed limits are only temporary. These sections do come with advisory speed limit of 130km/h (80 mp/h). Quickly expanded by the Third Reich in the 20’s and 30’s for military benefits, these roads have become amongst the favourites of drivers all over the world.

Obviously, travelling above these speeds is not advised and increases the chance of an accident, the drivers liability, and the chances of a fatality or serious injury in the event of an accident, however these high speeds allow users of the Autobahn to travel between cities extremely quickly on smooth and direct roads. The official statement in The German Highway Code, when translated into English, states that “any person driving a vehicle may only drive so fast that the car is under control. Speeds must be adapted to the road, traffic, visibility and weather conditions as well as the personal skills and characteristics of the vehicle and load.” Speed limits are enforced in urban areas and around road works.

Getting a licence to drive in Germany is hard, and reckless driving is not tolerated on the Autobahn. There are 14 required theory lessons and required driving lessons also, and there are formal courses in high speed car control as a car behaves very differently when driven above 90mp/h. German drivers on the Autobahn are well schooled which keeps accidents to a minimum. German drivers also adhere to the left lane passing rules very strictly (bear in mind they drive on the right in Germany) so they will keep as far right as possible, making high speed driving a lot safer. German drivers are also required to take a first aid test to pass their license, and if they seem somebody in distress they are required by law to stop and to assist.

The roads are very well maintained to ensure smooth driving at high speeds, with 3.8 billion euros set to be spent annually on road maintenance.

There is actually a minimum speed limit of 60 km/h, and vehicles that cannot maintain this are prohibited. Slow driving can cause problems for people travelling at reasonable speeds on the road network, and to ensure that there are fewer accidents, this is controlled. It is also illegal to stop, unless in an absolute emergency. Even running out of fuel is held against you as there are fuel stations every 50-55 km along the network.

Despite the faster driving, accidents seem to be a lot less common than in the US. There were only 2.2 road user fatalities per a billion vehicle kilometres in 2008 compared to 4.5 road user fatalities in the US. It seems that, contrary to a multitude of information, fast driving can be conducted safely when users are properly schooled and enforcements are put in place for reckless driving.