Skip to comments.Unsafe at Any Speed
Posted on 12/10/2003 12:52:43 AM PST by swilhelm73
Speed Kills? Sure, if you're a nation of incompetent drivers. Ask the Germans.
Lack of skill -- not "speeding" -- is the fountainhead of America's traffic problems. If you disagree, then you've got to explain how it is that the Germans routinely drive much faster than we do -- yet miraculously have lower overall accident and fatality rates. If "speed kills," how come it's less deadly if you're German? Is it the water? Or is the skill level of the average German driver higher? And if it is higher, how come? Are Germans truly the Master Race -- on the road, at least -- or do the German authorities simply expect more, in terms of demonstrated skill and experience behind the wheel, before they turn 'em loose on the Autobahn?
Go to the head of the class if you guessed it's more demanding licensing requirements and skills testing -- not anything special about the Germans themselves.
It takes a lot to get a first-time driver's license in Germany -- as much as 25-45 hours of Fahrschule instruction, on the road, in a real car -- culminating in an extensive written and practical test. The cost to pay for the necessary schooling (at an approved Fahrschule) and so forth costs about $1,500-$2,000. They don't mess around. As a result, the road competence of the average German driver is much higher than that of the average American driver.
For example, lane discipline is drilled into German drivers. They are taught to immediately move over to the right and yield to faster-moving traffic. The ubiquitous problem we have of drivers parking in the far left lane and refusing to budge is almost unheard of in Germany -- which is one reason why they can have Autobahns with cruising speeds of 100-mph-plus without problems -- while we have "road rage" and radar traps.
Almost anyone (including a ten-year-old) can pull a lever from "park" into "drive" and get a vehicle rolling -- and that's about all we demand of people before issuing them a valid operator's permit. That and a quickie written test that even Forrest Gump could pass. The "road test" in most states typically consists of a few turns around some cones in the back of a DMV parking lot. No accident avoidance instruction, no imparting of how to merge onto a busy freeway -- no road test in multiple driving environments, including night time, close-in city driving, or high speed freeway, as in Germany. Get around those cones okay -- and answer 20-odd questions correctly -- and you're done.
If we spent more time and energy on fostering better driving -- rather than licensing just about anyone who can walk unaided into a DMV office -- we'd almost certainly have fewer accidents; we'd definitely have a far less stressful, dangerous driving experience. An we could set highway limits at 75-85-mph, which is where they ought to be.
But instead, we have a "dumbed down" driving pool -- and least common denominator traffic laws that assume people are too inept to handle driving faster than 55 or 65 mph on highways designed for safe travel at speeds of 75-85 mph back in the Eisenhower era.
It's a cynical, corrupt system that has turned police into "revenue collectors" who "harass and collect" rather than "serve and protect."
But there's so much money at stake (tickets, insurance "surcharges," etc.) and we've got so many marginal drivers already on the road that it's not likely we'll start emulating the Germans anytime soon. If stricter licensing requirements were laid down, probably 30-40 percent of currently licensed drivers would flunk and need to undergo remedial testing. The massive hullabaloo about people's "right" to drive that would ensue would put a quick end to any such reform. And the fact is that many states and counties have become so dependent upon the revenue generated by trumped-up speeding tickets that it would be financially ruinous for them to change the system to focus on improving the skill of the average driver -- rather than fleecing motorists.
It's a lot like Prohibition in the 1920s.
Everyone knows the law is absurd -- and many routinely do their best to evade it. Few respect it. But there's so much money and political power at stake that changing the way things are done is about as likely as the Redskins or Falcons making the Super Bowl this year.
I have to say I agree with this! I drive a lot, putting 250,000 miles on my vehicles in 5 years. The number of people on the road with poor driving skills is truly incredible. My drive to work includes about 20 miles on twisty 2 lane country roads, and I can't believe how many people will cross the yellow line on a blind turn! My defensive driving skills have prevented many an accident.
Right now, we are in what I call the 'Christmas Driving Period". There are many people out on the roads, presumably for Christmas shopping and events, who the rest of the year do not drive in the dark, or the rain, or the snow. In December though, they will risk it, but alas their skills aren't up to par. They'll drive interstates 10 miles an hour below the speed limit. They 'park' in the left line on a divided highway. They slow down for their exit half a mile before the start of the exit ramp. Friday after the snow (here), I followed someone for about 10 miles who drove 25 in a 55 zone because the road was WET! Not snowy, not slushy, just wet. They were an accident waiting to happen. After Christmas, many of those people will only drive in nice weather until summer.
As to whether increased government requirements are the answer, I'd be inclined to think not. Maybe insurance companies could offer better rates to people who can pass different levels of driving skills tests. In PA, you can get lower rates if you're over 55 and take an AARP sponsored class on safe driving skills (although I'm not sure I agree with all their 'skills').
In Germany, as in most of Europe, public transportation is a realistic alternative for those who don't drive or can't pass the test. The mind boggles at what it would cost to build to the same level here.
Sure, they're called high occupancy lanes. The US concept is far more socialist than the German concept. Go figure.
It is true that Germans are "safer" drivers than Americans in general, but "better"? No f-in way! They all want to drive in the left lane and go 80 km/h for some reason and when you pass them on the right like I do (Yes, it is illegal) then they miraculously speed up. The law says "Keep Right except to Pass" here like in the US, but they conveniently forget that rule like in the states.
There are a lot of one car accidents on the Autobahns that baffle me. You will see skid marks approx. 45 degrees to the center guard rail and then the dent where the car hit. I still have not figured this out but my friend told me he actually saw this guy hit the guard rail on his own. The only reason for this I can figure is that he was distracted by fantasies of world conquest and taking out the JooZ!
Other than that, driving in Germany was a piece of cake to someone who grew up as rallyist/slalomist.
Now, French cities were a slightly different matter.
Drivers = purchases.
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