The Autobahn is a world famous highway because it has stretches of road that don’t have any speed limits assigned to them. Although there are junctions and stretches of road where dangerous situations may occur that do have speed limits and wet roads bring about another set of laws, the Autobahn is one of the few places in the world where you can let your car perform to the highest of levels.
As of 2009, Germany had the most automobile accidents in Europe, having more than Spain for the second year in a row.
Although that number seems alarming, the fact remains that overall traffic fatalities in almost every European nation have been being reduced over the past decade. The one exception to this is Switzerland, but their road deaths hover barely above 0 most years. Despite these decreases, however, the Autobahn is still seen as a dangerous place to be.
- 67% of the accidents that occurred on the Autobahn happened in sections where there was no posted speed limit.
- Rural road deaths accounted for 5 times more people dying in automobile accidents than people who were killed in the Autobahn.
- There is mounting data that shows imposing speed limits on highways has a direct impact on the amount of accidents and fatalities that occur.
- According to the Department of Energy, your car is most efficient at 55 mph or below.
- A 2008 report from the European Transport Safety Council (ETSC) looked at 645 road deaths in Germany, and found that 67 percent occurred on highway sections without limits.
When you look at the data that comes out of Europe as a whole, there really isn’t anything that makes Germany stand out above any other country. Spain and Belgium have more highway road deaths as a percentage than Germany and the amount of rural and urban road fatalities is equal with the remainder of the continent. In some ways, it seems like there is a fear in the idea that people can choose to travel at high speeds. Roads have become safer not necessarily because of speed limits, but because vehicle technology and construction practices have improved over the years, sometimes quite dramatically.
Are High Speeds Better for Highway Driving?
- German laws make it illegal to pass a vehicle on the right side, which reduces the typical weaving between multiple lanes of traffic that is seen in other countries, especially the United States.
- It is more difficult to get a German driver’s license and somewhat cost prohibitive, meaning that more drivers have more knowledge about what it takes to drive safely.
- The accident rate on the Autobahn is consistently lower than many other interstate style highway systems, partly because of its better construction – it has a 40 year rating. The US highway system has a 20 year rating.
- The annual fatality rate on the Autobahn in 2.7 per billion kilometers traveled. The United States has a 4.5 fatality rate for the same distance and highly controlled speeds to boot.
- More than 50% of the Autobahn has no posted speed limit, although there is an advised limit of 130 kilometers per hour.
- The Autobahn also uses camera technology to catch those who are speeding in posted speed limit areas, something that other major highway systems don’t necessarily do.
- There is a law of “coercion” on the Autobahn that prevents aggressive driving, even if someone is not driving as fast as another driver wishes to drive.
What is unique about the Autobahn is that the focus of it isn’t in the actual speed of the highway in most places, but in the structure that allows people to drive. It starts first with a premium road that is continually inspected for defects. Instead of putting down rough tar patches or leaving the roadway to pot holes or worse, oil and gravel coating, the Autobahn has the entire section of roadway with a fault in it replaced for smooth driving. Then there’s a consistent enforcement of the laws to keep drivers safe. On an interesting side note, it is also against the law to run out of fuel when driving on the Autobahn. If you do, you can lose your license for up to 6 months.
Why is the Autobahn Safer Than Other Highways?
- Vehicles that drive on the Autobahn are required to have scheduled vehicle checks every two years, something that isn’t required in other countries.
- Not giving other drivers the space they require to operate a vehicle safely can result in being pulled over or a heavy fine.
- Driving fast requires a lot of extra attention to the roadway, eliminating the temptation to be distracted by a phone call, texting, or eating a hamburger while driving.
- The injury rate for accidents that occur on the Autobahn is just 0.08 per billion kilometers.
- Only 4 states in the US have safer roads than Germany.
- Most drivers stick to the advised speed limit on unregulated stretches of the Autobahn – only about 1/3 of drivers historically exceed the recommended speed limit.
- The penalty for tailgaiting, which can be enforced by camera, is up to €375 and three months of a license suspension.
How strict are German laws on the Autobahn? If you happen to have a disabled vehicle that happens with an avoidable occurrence, then depending on how the vehicle becomes disabled, you could be charged with a serious crime. If there is any direct danger to life or creating an injury on the highway structure, a prison sentence of up to 5 years may be enforced. First Aid training is mandatory in Germany to obtain a license and all drivers are mandated to provide assistance in an emergency. Even in traffic jams, vehicles are mandated to occupy an emergency lane so that response vehicles can get through. The tires of a vehicle must be in compliance as well for a vehicle’s top speed. Together, these create a system of laws that might seem a little bit like Big Brother to some, but do act in such a way to prevent the same levels of fatalities that are seen in other countries.