Monday, April 30, 2012

Why is the Autobahn Safer than US Interstates?

The Autobahn is a world renowned highway system in Germany which is touted for its lack of speed limitations. Drivers from all over the world travel to Germany to indulge themselves in the thrill of driving at high speeds. But as you grant autobahn drivers the freedom to drive faster, won’t their safety be in jeopardy?

Not necessarily. In stark contrast to common sense the autobahn, where some drivers exceed 200 mph, is relatively safe. The fatality rate on the German autobahn is actually much lower than that observed on the US interstate system. The Economist reports that per every 100,000 people under the age of 24, in the US nearly 20 die in auto accidents compared to approximately 7 in Germany. Even with this low amount of deaths, one would assume that the "dangerous" autobahn accounted for most of the German accidents. Yet, in 2009 accidents on the autobahn accounted for less than 10%. How can this be?

Well, speed aside, drivers of the autobahn experience more restrictions than we have here in the US. To begin, in Germany drivers licenses are much more difficult to acquire. Individual driver’s training courses are mandatory and a driver’s licenses (which could cost you $1500) can only be obtained at age 18, two years older than we experience in the United States.

Also, on the autobahn, it is illegal to pass a car on the right side. This helps to ensure that the left lane is clear for those cars traveling at high speeds. In the United States, the same is true in concept as the left lane is regarded as the passing lane, however there is no law which enforces this practice. More so, because it is expected to endure cars at much higher speeds, the autobahn requires much smoother pavement than other interstates or highways. The autobahn pavement is twice as thick as what is found on US interstates and is well maintained.

Another factor contributing to its safety is the quality of vehicles using the autobahn. The autobahn has had a significant effect on the way which cars are engineered as the German auto industry has had to create cars with the autobahn in mind. This makes German cars, as a whole, faster than foreign competitors. The autobahn has helped to ensure German cars are safe in crash testing, high speed maneuverability, and brakes. Even as we rebound from a global recession German automobiles such as Audi, BMW, or Mercedes-Benz remain in high demand.

 The autobahn is statistically safer and much more fun than the common interstate, but will we ever experience something like the autobahn in the United States?

Probably not.

26 comments:

Greg Emery said...

Huh?

Morgan said...

This actually reminds me of the drinking age debate. More strict regulations have (supposedly) caused an increase in the U.S. in dangerous drinking habits. While in Germany, binge drinking is not as pressing of an issue because its laws are a little more relaxed. Like the strict drinking laws, driving laws could possibly have had an affect on American's "need for speed." If the U.S. developed an Autobahn system, I think it would be incredibly dangerous at first. People would test the upper-limits on their cars out of curiosity and because they can. Eventually, they would slowly lose amusement, just as adults are not as amused by binge drinking. I'm not sure if this would ever make it to the U.S.

Hannah said...

Well look at the records of accidents, according to that it is more safe than our roads here, so why not? If the U.S. were to adopt this system, I agree with Morgan that it is similar to the drinking age-eventually people would lost interest in being able to drive at these high speeds. Also, if this system were brought here, the laws that go along with the Autobahn would also have to be adopted-especially the requirements to obtaining a license, which I think are a little too easy in the U.S. Also, harsher punishment for speeding on the Autobahn could keep it a relatively safe highway.

Hannah Stanton-Gockel said...

I don't know if the Autobahn is the best solution for US transportation needs. Personally, I think we should invest in more accessible public transportation, like high speed trains, etc. The US is so large, spread out and geographically diverse that I think building and maintaining an Autobahn here would be too expensive and just not feasible. It is probably a good idea for the US to revisit driving regulations either way- but we do have to consider that we're a country that developed around the use of cars and cars are integral to our way of life.

Courtney Johnson said...

I completely agree with you guys about driving restrictions in Us and Germany. I think people would definitely go crazy for awhile until the thrill of breaking the law fades out.
When I went to Germany about 2 years ago I had a pretty interesting experience on the Autobahn. I was in the car with two German friends and we were driving maybe 90 kilometers per hour... which is about 70 miles... a totally normal speed. Then out of nowhere this black sports car raced passed us and he must have been going like almost twice as fast as us! In addition to his speed, he was also switching lanes pretty recklessly...
Unlike America where people might just roll their eyes at this reckless driving, my friends were annoyed. In their perspective the Autobahn is not something to take advantage of. His driving was not only reckless for himself but for the people around him. Without a second thought my friends called a number that is special for reporting reckless driving on the Autobahn.
This experience opened my eyes to a small difference in culture. In Germany it seems that people feel a personal responsibility to not speed and also keep the roads safe for others. If the US had a similar policy do you think that the drivers would practice this idea of personal responsibility? Or perhaps is it more like the America culture to see this kind of thing as tattle-tailing?

Kaeleen Kosmo said...

To answer your question, I sincerely doubt that a system change in American motor policies would go over well. People are too invested in driving and transporting themselves from place to place, and doing so relatively inexpensive and at a young age. Also, in a country where citizens in most cities and towns have no access to (reliable) public service, a system like Germany’s simply would not work.

Germans have more access to public transportation and are much more likely to participate in ride sharing, as Kim indicated in her post a few weeks ago. Americans are reluctant to travel with those they don’t know, whether it is sitting on a bus next to someone or (especially) signing up to drive 6 hours to another city with a complete stranger.

One point from your post that I found very intriguing was the German law that prevents drivers from passing in the right lane of the Autobahn. This probably contributes greatly to the safe flow of traffic because without speed limits, this law is basically essential. Would implementing such a law in the US lower the risks of highway accidents?

Doctechnical said...

Because Germans.

Anonymous said...

One thing that is not mentioned in the article is the driver training requirements to obtain a drivers' license. If the U.S. were to add the expense and the demonstrated educational requirements to the ability to obtain a drivers' license, our roads might actually exceed the safety of the autobahn.

Anonymous said...

Another important aspect is road quality. Roads (at least where I saw it in NY and MA) looked like crap. This can lead to all kinds of accidents, and comparing how often you see blown tires on LI's I-60 (all the time) to the German autobahn (hardly ever) tells some story.

Anonymous said...

I am from Germany and I vividly remember when I was 18, and a friend of mine had an American exchange student come over for a visit.
My friends dad had an important business appointment, so he gave his son the keys for his big BMW to fetch the student at Frankfurt airport. I accompanied him (my English was better than his), and we went to Frankfurt (250km/180miles from here on the A3, one of the biggest Autobahn in Germany).
When we went home - the American student in the passenger seat - my friend put the pedal to the metal. It was past 10PM, the Autobahn was nearly deserted, and we were soon way beyond 200km/h (130mph), when our passenger looked at the speed indicator and nearly freaked out, not even noticing that the "230" were just km/h...

David Daily said...

oh my god you guys. I grew up in germany and they do have speed limits on the autobahn. and NOBODY EVER WILL GO 320 KMH with a stock car. they might be pushing 200 kmh, but never 300. that's how fast the fastest train in Germany goes. This (and thinking that germans are nazis) really needs to get fixed about american thinking.

Anonymous said...

For all you people saying that "drinking age needs to be lowered" or "no speed limits anymore" in the U.S., I'm afraid you aren't completely thinking your premise through.

Maybe it would change people's habits. Maybe. But in the meantime, you'd most likely suffer a serious number of alcohol-related and automobile-related deaths due to abuse of relaxed laws.

I suppose you have to crack a few eggs to make an omelet. But do you want to be the one to tell a mother why the untimely death of her 16 year old "egg" is worth it in the long run?

Anonymous said...

German cars aren't always faster than their competitor. In fact most German luxury cars historically have been sold with much smaller and less powerful engine variants in Europe than the ones imported to the U.S. due to European fuel,carbon & engine size taxes.

German cars aren't necessarily safer in passive safety because of the Autobahn either. Pound for pound Swedish cars (Volvos, SAAB) have led in the safety area, reinforcing roofs, implementing side impact airbags and curtains first (Volvo), Anti-Whiplash seating (Volvo & SAAB). The Swedes have also led in engineering their cars for Small Overlap Collisions (IIHS) where as all the premium Germans put through the same test literally fell apart.

Anonymous said...

"The Economist reports that per every 100,000 people under the age of 24, in the US nearly 20 die in auto accidents compared to approximately 7 in Germany. "

Maybe you should use a better statistic. As I understand it, it's much more expensive to get a license in Germany and to own and maintain a car. This means the rate of young people driving is much less than in the states.

Maybe you could try and find fatalities Vs miles driven on the autobahn Vs the US Interstate system?

Bengt L├╝ers said...

Still, 10 people die every day in German traffic. Self-driving cars can not come quick enough.

http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Verkehrstote_Deutschland_1953-2012.svg

Anonymous said...

The key is the second paragraph. Common sense does not exist in the US. How many times do you see someone driving for hundreds of miles at the speed limit or even lower in the inside lane, never leaving this lane. It's either arrogance, stupidity or the lack of driving skills and they are afraid of changing lanes.

Anonymous said...

/\Loves the smell of their own farts.

Anonymous said...

I visited Germany in the late 1970's. I owned a 1975 Porche at the time. My friends from there were amazed that Americans "needed" cup holders in a car. They wouldn't consider drinking or eating while driving. The huge difference is that they took driving seriously. At that time we went to a specific Autobahn where there were no speed limits.

Anonymous said...

I want to go to Germany now, after reading all this stuff.

Steve Oelrich said...

Can anyone tell me whether the sheer number of cars (or comparative LACK of them) might play a part in this? I was on the autobahn just a few weeks ago for the first time and it struck me how few cars there were compared to the U.S. Or perhaps I was just imagining this?

Donald Sensing said...

I was stationed in Germany during the mid-1980s and drove a German-model Mercedes S-Class sedan. I usually cruised at 125 mph, but one night I had to take it to 150 because I took a wrong turn and had to make up time for a 40-km error. Don't care to do that again!

In the US, we should raise the speed limits to fight global warming.

Anonymous said...

We do have more traffic in the US. But the issue is that we don't keep the traffic flowing well. That is Partially because of our low speed limits, and because people are in the left lane when they should be in the right.

Anonymous said...

Many comments here are spot on.

US will NEVER have an autobahn.

#1 Insufficient train system to move people who can't either pass the driving test, or have insufficient funds to properly maintain the vehicle (Brakes, tires, bodywork, etc.)

#2 It would cost trillions, yes TRILLIONS of $ to upgrade and maintain the existing system to german standards.

HR truck license QLD said...

Between my driving lessons I had to go out on a trip about 10 days, that was kind of annoying. But I had my road test next month and I passed on my first try!

Anonymous said...

I spent a big part of my day today on the Autobahn. Sure, some parts have asked limits, but many parts don't. I was maxed out at 280 kph and there were plenty of prior at similar paces. Perhaps you have forgotten that cats are gayer than when you were growing up?

Anonymous said...

Your logic is deeply flawed and incredibly wrong. Yes, short term deaths might go up, but overall deaths would go down. Yes, I would prefer cracking a few eggs today over cracking a whole lot of eggs every day.