Ann's News

The Autobahn: The Pleasure and Danger

Germany has an excellent train system…so I hear. Haven’t found out for myself yet because where ever I go – I drive. I invested in a BMW 328I a couple of months back, aka White Diamond, and she’s a dream to drive.  BMWs are after all the “ultimate driving machines” and where else to better enjoy her then here in Germany?  I will never again fully experience what she was designed to do once I leave.

I pity BMW, Porche, Mercedes and Audi owners back in the States…they really don’t know  their cars or get to enjoy what their German engineered cars were designed to do.  Once you experience the thrill of the unrestricted zones on the autobahn; you come to understand what the German engineers know…what they must consider when they want to ensure their countrymen will not just get pleasure out of their time behind the wheel, but will be able to do so “safely”. While driving in the unrestricted zones is elating – it is also definitely dangerous.

Here are few basics some people might not know. The entire autobahn is not without speed limits. A good part of it has speed limits anywhere from 100-120km (60-75mph).  The unrestricted zones (marked by the sign to the left) are the only areas where speed limits are not mandatory although…max speed of 130km is advised.

You DO NOT pass on the right in Germany.  Only to the left. Unless you are passing, you stay out of the left lane. I would say 95% of the time, everyone follows that rule.  The left lane, unless there’s traffic is basically wide open. However, that doesn’t mean someone won’t slide over to pass another car…and this is where it gets dangerous and scary.  But first, let me also add that people use their blinkers.  When going at very high speeds, it’s extremely important to know other driver’s intent because reaction times are limited at best.

Even in the unrestricted zones, where there is no speed limit; you can never go faster than traffic. You find a mixture of two and three lanes around this general area.  Around Berlin, I found 4 lanes…which is where I hit my max speed of 140mph.  Thankfully, even in traffic, when it’s not too heavy, speed will average 80-90mph (which feels like you’re crawling after going 115mph). Finally, the autobahn isn’t a straight away, so however fast you’re going – you need to handle the twist and curves in the road.

Now that you have the basics – let me try to explain the trickiest part of driving on the autobahn and why it’s pretty dangerous.  It’s extremely difficult to gauge the speed of other vehicles when there’s no speed limit. Think about it – in the U.S., except may be for a speeder here and there, you know how fast people are going on the highway and most people are going around the same speed, making it easier to plan what you’re going to do and what could go wrong.  Not so in the unrestricted zones.  Drivers could be going anywhere from 45mph – 220mph…which you have to factor in to your speed.  It gets dicey.

The inability to tell the speed of other vehicles really hinders your ability to make sound decisions. Yes, I see how some people are thinking – a sound decision would be to not drive at 110 mph…but hey, I’m not breaking the law, which is the only thing that keeps me from speeding otherwise.

A car in the right lane going 75mph, can easily signal into the left lane to pass the car in front of them, not realizing what little time they have to pass when you’re coming at them at 120mph.  The heavier the traffic, the more dangerous it gets.  I slow down the more cars that are around; I know I can’t trust other drivers to calculate my speed and safely go about their business.  Obviously the German engineers know this…which is why German cars (or at least my BMW) have excellent breaks.

Besides not knowing how fast other drivers are going, you also never know who is going to decide to speed up and take off. Again, back in the States…if you are the speeding kind, once you pass a car you can basically write them off.  Additionally, most cars aren’t high quality, so the beater you passed isn’t all of the sudden going to come flying by you. Here, you’re surrounded by BMWs, Audis, Porches, and Mercedes…most cars are max 3 years old and all have close to the same capacities, so you never know.   While many choose not the speed – all have the ability.

Forget about it at night. Germans seem to pick up speed. I have poor night vision so I slow down drastically at night. Headlights just go flying by which is more unnerving than during the day.  But that could just be me.

I have to admit that at 110mph, my hands are securely placed at 3 and 9 o’clock…takes me back to drivers ed.  I also understand now why my seats aren’t more “comfortable”; something that surprised me at first about my car. Turns out, they’re in fact just perfect for the ultimate driving experience my sales rep kept mentioning! Once I’m seated “to drive” – the ergonomics are just right as I ease down on the accelerator and take off 🙂

It’s a small pleasure but every time I can get away…it brings a smile on my face when I see that first unrestricted sign. If you’re a speedster – I highly recommend adding driving the autobahn to your bucket list!