Driving the Autobahn

Posted On: Thursday - October 15th 2020 7:21PM MST
In Topics: 
  Cars  Peak Stupidity Roadshow

The Bundesautobahn:

This post is a follow-up of yesterday's No parking in the show-off lane!. That post describes driving in the US of A on limited-access highways. ("Controlled-access" is what Wiki calls them.)

It was near 2 decades ago when I got to drive on the German Autobahn while doing doing some business in Germany. I got around too, coming in from Amsterdam Schiphol airport deep into Germany, then with a day trip to Czechia, and later back to Amsterdam.

Before I relate my experience regarding speeds, lanes, and passing on the autobahn, in comparison, I'll give just a very brief history of these "Federal Motorways", the English translation of Bundesautobahn. Though a good, fast highway network in Germany had been considered during the Wiemar Republic years in the mid-1920s, nothing much happened with that until Adolph Hitler, yes THAT Adolph Hitler, embraced the idea right after the Nazi take-over in 1933. Within 3 years, there were 130,000 Germans directly working on the Autobahn network and another 270,000 indirectly.

The first section finished was between Frankfurt am Main (the big Frankfurt*) and Darmstadt, a 21 mile stretch to start off with. Work was done until WWII, the big one, and then it didn't resume until the early 1950s. That was the time that our Interstate system was being started. Right now, there are just over 8,000 miles of Autobahn, while the American Interstate system has just under 50,000 miles.

I can't for the life of me find out how much of the Autobahn network is 4-lane road, but whether it is or has more lanes makes all the difference, from my experience. Yes, the Germans take the passing lane business seriously, and everyone has to with the speed differentials between lanes. Plus they are Germans, so a rule is a rule. OK maybe 85% of them are Germans now.

Though we always hear about these roads without speed limits, only some of it is this way, though a majority of the mileage, from what I've just read. Then the truckers have a limit that if I recall correctly was only 100 kph which is 61 mph! Of course, they stay in that right lane. However, I was not driving a BMW sports car, but a Subaru wagon. Not only that, I don't pretend to be a race car driver. What I wanted to do was a comfortable 75 mph +/- 5 being OK too.

That's not easy on the 4-lane sections (2 lanes each way). I got frustrated at 60 mph among the Schneemensch and his other good buddies in the convoy. I had to come left to pass. However, I'm not exactly the Bandit either. I had to wait till that left lane was clear for 1/2 a mile, get over there and gun it, and get to the next decent open stretch between the trucks before someone came right up on my ass with the headlights frantically flashing. That's no way to drive! I'd rather do the lane-to-lane thing on the interstate than that.

It was all better when the roads had 3 lanes or more in my direction. The slow guys just stay right. The fast guys do as you're supposed to here too, come left, but only to the first lane to their left that has room for passing. In general those 120 mph and up guys would, and would need to, stay in that left lane. I could find spots in the middle lane (talking specifically 3 lanes now) to pass a number of trucks and other slow pokes without pissing people off.

So, the number of lanes makes all the difference in the world in how functional the German Autobahns are.

While trying to find out how much of the 8,000 miles of Autobahn are only 4-lane road, I did find this neat web page with a little advice from experience and a nice video near the bottom. Yeah, it looks pretty fast - he got up to 180 mph.

PS: In case you were wondering the Schneemensch is the Snowman, played by the late Jerry Reed in the movie Smokey and the Bandit and the sequel.

* Just as with the towns in England withe the olde-timey names like Watford-on-Thames, etc. (I made that one up), Frankfurt am Main is "Frankfurt on the Main River", a tributary of the Rhine, while the Frankfurt an der Oder, is way east on the Polish border, on the Oder River.

Wednesday - October 21st 2020 3:10AM MST
PS: Mr. Hail, also sorry for the late reply on here. It seems like everybody likes trains. I can also see that, since people can travel together, it does improve social cohesion. Trains in the US may have been a better option when more regular Americans (not just ghetto thugs) lived in the downtown areas. If people have to take other transportation to train stations (for long distance traveling, it slows things down, compared to driving.

I'm sure the Interstate system, subsidized as it was, was a big part of the switchover from railroad to road, but possibly that exodus from the downtowns (OK, white flight) in the 1960s, was a factor too.

Economically, passenger railroads just don't seem to pay in the US, except for on that NE corridor, Washington, FS to Boston.

I've got a couple of posts on this Mr. Hail, with a hat-tip to Steve Sailer for making me think of that downtown problem:

"We All Like Trains" - - https://www.peakstupidity.com/index.php?post=742
"Trains in the Orient vs. America" - -
Wednesday - October 21st 2020 3:01AM MST
PS: Thanks for the personal anecdotes, Alarmist. You know they could teach this stuff in driving school, the keeping right and such. I guess people forget anyway, like the same lane-to-same lane turns I've heard about from someone that I never thought was so important.

You hit the problem with only 2 lanes in each direction, but that is really not good driving to begin with, the passing with 3 mph differential. In the US, I think it's because many don't want to speed by more than their personal limit (based on worry about driving record points), say 8 mph over. So, they start passing (and it doesn't help when dickheads on the right decide to take being passed personally and speed up) and don't want to get too extra fast in doing it. Get it over with. The way I think about it, once I pull back to the right, I'm less of a target for speed enforcement. Who knows?

I just remembered that you live over there in Europe, don't you, Alarmist? I was thinking England.
Wednesday - October 21st 2020 2:54AM MST
PS: Sorry for the late replies, guys.

Urbando, re those "ghost drivers", I've never heard that term, but there have been such instances of that here too. Usually, the driver is shitfaced drunk. You would think in the modern day, there could be sensors on the off-ramps to detect vehicles moving the other direction and turning on warning signaling on the road (the latter would be the expensive part) but also somehow get to drivers' cell phones.
The Alarmist
Tuesday - October 20th 2020 3:39PM MST

The stretch from FFM to Darmstadt is four lanes each way and is still largely unrestricted. It was the first stretch of Autobahnn I ever drove in a rented BMW 5, hitting 220 (KMH, that is). One thing most Germans are still good at is getting out of the left lane, followed by not passing on the right, which can cost one one’s licence. Americans could never handle Autobahn speeds without killing far more people because they for the most part have no discipline comparable to that of Germans.

That thingy about the Housefrau doing >140 MPH in an Opel is an exaggeration ... she might get it only up to 120 or so. On anything less than three lanes, she will invariably be overtaking a truck at its speed plus 5 KMH as you approach at 200 KMH or more.

One rude surprise is the seeming hate German Highway engineers have for Germans, with poorly marked unlit stretches that force you to slow down or risk your life ... you cross the border from a well-lit but speed-limited highway in Belgium and floor it in Germany only to realise that you are now racing ahead into darkness with about one second of visible road ahead of you in winding, hilly road.

It seems increasing lengths are being limited to 120 KMH or less these days, but once a German has permission, you had better get out of the way.
Saturday - October 17th 2020 8:34AM MST
PS Germans (or, at least, Bavarians) note the existence of Geisterfahrer (ghost drivers) on the autobahn. This term refers to people who, amazingly, manage to get on the autobahn driving against traffic, e.g. southbound in the northbound lanes, and who frequently cause horrific head-on collisions.

In addition to the exotic sports cars which thunder by one in the left lane (just a dull blur), there are many instances of the Hausfrau From Weilheim tooling along at > 140 mph in the family Opel station wagon.
Friday - October 16th 2020 8:06PM MST
PS: Mr. Hail, I appreciate the correction on, and speculation regarding, the typo. I will respond more tomorrow to your comment and also to your reply back to me on your site.
Friday - October 16th 2020 2:45PM MST
PS Number of lanes certainly makes a difference. I’ve mentioned what a pain I-94 from Benton Harbor to Ann Arbor is. I-57 to southern Illinois is also two lanes in each direction and equally a pain. I’ve relatively recently, (2015) and (2017) respectively, driven French autoroutes and British motorways. I can’t say that I paid a lot of attention to the number of lanes in either case, but, thinking back on it, it must have been more than two each way, because I do recall zipping along rather swiftly. Fewer trucks, also, I think. Hail: No doubt that the motor car is a mixed blessing, but I’m pretty sure that the freedom of movement it has given to ordinary people is something that they would fight pretty hard to keep.
Friday - October 16th 2020 2:15PM MST
PS - It is said often said that Germans are "proud of the Autobahn." I wonder about that.

To the extent I know Germany/Germans, and I spent the better part of a year there once and became conversant in the language and able to follow the news, I also know they love nature. In USA it is no surprise to encounter a highly a disproportionate share of foreign-origin (and US-origin) Germanics out exploring in nature areas and national parks.

I imagine a lot more Germans think of the entire Autobahn/automobile mega-project as a mistake than we might guess from the 'cool' image they have.

The USA went much further with our own "Autobahn/automobile mega-project" in the mid-20th century and while I rarely see it discussed I sense there are signs of revealed-preference discontent with the whole thing now.

The brilliant George Kennan, one of the ultimate old-line early-to-mid 20th century patriots before the rise of the new order of things. He had a very long career and continued writing even until age 100 (to oppose the invasion of Iraq), dying only in 2005. He revealed something of himself in his professed love for trains and the whole rail network. He loved what they did for towns and cities and social cohesion. He pointed the finger at the automobile but especially the sleek highway network, as a force of social dissolution.

(The publication of Kennan's diaries in the 2010s revealed social decline was much on his mind as he observed America in the latter decades of the 20th century, and he was well into non-PC territory for which his statues would be torn down today, if there were any. He is obscure enough within the relevant academic fields that he may survive the ideological purges.)
Friday - October 16th 2020 2:00PM MST
PS - "a good, fast highway network in Germany had been considered during the Wiemar Republic years in the mid-1020s"

This typo caused one of those delightful free associations.

Imagine Germans of the 1020s AD, a clean one thousands years ago here from the 2020s AD, proposing a "fast highway network" all around the German realms. What would it have meant to them? What would they have done about the highwaymen (and not Willie Nelson and the other guys who called themselves The Highwaymen for a while back there)?

Which makes me also ask, what was passing procedure like on the old roads before the combustion engine? Even with horses or other pack animals providing the movement, some will be faster and some slower than others.
Friday - October 16th 2020 10:35AM MST
PS. Christopher- no swishy Euro-names in our house!
Friday - October 16th 2020 10:33AM MST
PS. Ganderson's fine. I had all manner of trouble logging in over at Hail's site- I hit the "forgot your password" button and WordPress assured me they would send me a reset via email, which never arrived. So I used my google account, which has my whole name.

Some girls at school used to call me "Gandy"- I let them get away with it because they were cute. My youngest son's lax nickname in college was "Crandy" as his first name is Christophe.

I thought I sorta implied the Sturgis/surges deal, I must be losing my touch.
Friday - October 16th 2020 9:04AM MST
PS: Mr. Ewing, thanks for writing in. I think the situation is worse on the Autobahn than on use Interstates between cities for 2 reasons. We don't have near as much traffic most of the time. It can get pretty wide open here, going on those long stretches between cities. Secondly, those 100 kph speed limits for the truckers are damn low and are adhered to pretty much, from what I saw (maybe they were doing 65 mph vs. 62).

In the US I see trucks holding 70 mph lots of the time, except on the long up-grades. You don't have many people really wanting to stay at 90 mph, or even 85, so when you pass the trucks, you don't have to get up to speeds like that. Just get 10 mph faster, speed limit or not, and get er done, that's all I ask.
Friday - October 16th 2020 8:59AM MST
PS: Mr. Anderson, would you rather I use your proper last name? I've been doing it wrong, cause I somehow thought "Ganderson" was one of those old Scandinavian names. How do I know? I saw your comment on Mr. Hail's site, but wasn't sure you MEANT to write it in like that. You tell me, as I can delete this paragraph of this comment.

Anyway, I appreciate your joke re: wieners and all, but I don't see how you missed "There are no surges in Sturgis."

They just keep talking about cases, not illnesses or deaths. So what? There will probably a lot of cases of the common cold this winter too, and, more seriously, plain old influenza, which kills a significant amount of people on a continual basis. Didn't Mr. Hail's post say 10-11% of all deaths were from the flu?
JR Ewing
Friday - October 16th 2020 8:01AM MST
PS I've noticed that it's the same way on crowded US interstates, two lanes terrible, three lanes great.

It's impossible to go a constant speed on a two lane divided highway and it ends up just being a bunch of fast and slow leapfrogging between the right and left lanes. The speed disparity between the trucks and slowpokes in the right lane and the fastest drivers in the left lane is just too great.

Two lanes is the standard but on more highly used routes in modern America it needs to be three.
Friday - October 16th 2020 7:57AM MST
PS. You'd have to be a wiener to live in either of those towns. No. Wait, that's Vienna!

Local Papers full of Corona-doom this AM- talking about "surges" in ND, SD, OK, KS... ( notice the supposed "super-spreader event" in STURGIS, SD has disappeared down the memory hole- wonder why?) flyover states full of deplorables, doncha know, and looks like the UK, Netherlands and others are preparing for "Lockdown II, The Wrath of Kahn...err..Fauci"
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