By on August 6, 2007

autobahn1.jpgGermany's famed Autobahn turns 75 today. Deutsche Welle recalls how the first 20-kilometer stretch between Cologne and Bonn was opened to the public on August 6, 1932. The new highway had some very specific rules, many of which still apply. The Kölnische Zeitung newspaper wrote on Aug. 5, 1932: "Due to a specific police order, every other traffic, such as pedestrians, carts, bicyclists, motorcyclists and horse carriage, is prohibited to drive on the street." Today, the Autobahn stretches 12,400km. Despite the widespread belief that you can drive on the autobahn as fast as you dare, most sections have posted speed limits. As for the "de-restricted" segments, environmental groups have been calling for the imposition of speed limits since the '60's. Thanks to global wamring concerns, those voices have gathered new strength. Despite the country's cultural attachment to "fun, fun, fun on the autobahn," it's only a matter of time before the adrenal anachronism is "harmonized" with European law. 

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15 Comments on “Alles Gute zum Geburtstag, Autobahn!...”

  • avatar

    I have a theory that the keystone of the famous German road manners is the unlimited sections of the Autobahn. They know they have to stay out of the left lane for fear of being run down by a big BMW or Merc. The Germans also faithfully obey the speedlimits because they know if the road allowed, it would be unlimited. Take away those two elements and they’ll be driving just as bad as the blue hairs in the Buicks in no time.

  • avatar

    Speed Limits will make drivers sloppy… Basic Human Nature.

    If the EU has it’s way, everybody in Europe will be bicycling the Autobahn.

  • avatar


    It has nothing to do with fear, but the way the German’s handle driving in general. Over there it is a major ordeal to get a driver’s license unlike here in the US.

    You are not allowed in the left hand lane unless over taking. All traffic fines are percentages of incomes, vs. a flat rate. They also fine for roadrage and rude gestures. They are VERY serious about driving and enforce it, hence why roads like the Autobahn are available there.

  • avatar

    I wish it were as difficult to get a Driver’s License here in the USA as it is in Germany. My eldest son recently started driving and I was appalled at how little driver training they provided for him in ‘Driver’s Ed’ and what a pathetic joke the written test is in my state. The test is more about DUI laws than driving… studying a MADD brochure is more helpful to pass than the Driver’s handbook. Sigh.

    BTW, Kraftwerk sang “Wir fahr’n fahr’n fahr’n auf der Autobahn” which never uses nor means “fun”… “fah’n” more or less means “drivin\'”.


  • avatar

    Do you really think that the Europeans drive better because they receive better driver training? You would know this to be false if you ever came across a “Drive School” car in Europe. Like everywhere else, you do what the instructor tells you until you get licenced and then you do what is proper.

    You can drive in the left lane all you want as long as you move over for others to pass. Passing on the right is prohibited (As it should be! Everywhere!)

  • avatar

    I found the standard of driving in Germany generally higher that in the US. Driving is seen as a full time occupation – no cup holders in most cars, no cell phones, no applying makeup or other distractions while driving. They use they indicators and don’t tailgate – its a different attitude. It may be better driver education – they have a number of compulsory hours of driver education in order to get a drivers license unlike here in Florida where all you need is a pulse.

  • avatar

    If you want to drive fast, just go the the Canadian prairies. While there is a posted speed limit (of 110km/h) there is no enforcement of it… maybe because drivers can see the police three hours ahead of them… literally. Really, you can drive as fast as you want through the prairies. There’s virtually no traffic, the road is straight (for probably 1000km… it makes exactly zero turns in Saskatchewan), and it’s well maintained. Canada’s version of the Autobahn.

  • avatar

    It’s a question of respect. In the US there is no respect if they think they can externalize it as in a steel cage, once traffic stops and 6’8″ 290# unfold (even if with a smile) then they shit in their pants.

  • avatar

    Two years ago I had a drive on the Autobahn that I will always remember, being picked up in Frankfurt and driven to a small Town about 50 kms north, our Car was a large BMW, I told the driver that we didnt have to hurry, he told me everyone drives fast there.
    We did come across one small area were the Speed limit was posted as 70kms per hour, one thing I did notice when we arrived at our location, I had a chance to walk around the Town and noticed none of the Cars had banged up fenders or any damage at all and all this in a small Town with narrow streets and the Autobahn just near bye, made me appreciate being in a well run Country with good roads and good drivers.

  • avatar

    If you want to drive fast, just go the the Canadian prairies.

    Northern Territory, in the Australian outback.
    No speed limit outside the towns, which are very few and very far between. Just get off the road before sunset, when the wild camels, kangaroos and smaller critters come out to feed and wander across the road…

  • avatar

    “t’s only a matter of time before the adrenal anachronism is “harmonized” with European law. ”

    People said the same thing when environmentalism was last hip in the 1980s. Never gonna happen. Even the social democrat / green party government didn’t introduce a speed limit in their 7 year government term from 98-05.

    Regarding the left lane, the law says it’s only for overtaking, however many drivers often need to be reminded of that fact (by flashing the headlights, horn etc.).

    And btw., about half of the Autobahn network is derestricted, which is quite a lot. And yes, I’m from Germany.

  • avatar

    Another thing – on many sections, they use dynamic speed signs; small cameras check how many cars are on the road, and they change the speed limit if deemed necessary. So, if there is a lot of traffic, the limit may be lowered to 120 kph or even lower; but at night or on weekends, it’s derestricted. And the signs also warn you if there’s been an accident ahead and such – pretty neat, if you ask me.

  • avatar
    Stephan Wilkinson

    A BMW PR guy said to me–and this was way back in the late ’70s–“Honda’s engineers come to work on the tube. Our engineers come to work on the Autobahn.” The Autobahn network has a huge amount to do with why German cars are the way they are. I remember coming over a rise on a quite wide, often busy stretch of the Autobahn approaching Frankfurt from Stuttgart, as I remember, and it suddenly looked like the touchdown zone of a JFK runway: black streaks for a thousand feet, everywhere. It apparently was a classic place for rush-hour traffic backups, and they were unexpected until drivers got over the rise. somebody told me that very specific stretch of Autobahn had a lot to do with the Germans developing automotive ABS (which was actually developed years earlier by Dunlop, for aircraft use).

    I’ve driven a fair amount on Autobahns, at least for an American, and it’s an interesting experience. I remember a time when you had to be super-careful of gastarbeiters–guestworkers, often Turkish or Portuguese (we’d call them migrant laborers…) who typically were driving old Fiat 500s or the like. You’d come steaming up the left lane at 150 or more and they’d pull out not far in front of you to pass a truck, doing their best to accelerate to 70…

  • avatar

    Luther, I think the level of driver training works not so much because of the skills, but because of the overall attitude to driving that exists in a country that requires such extensive training.

    Obviously in most European countries driving is seen as a privelege, not the right that people seem to think it is on this side of the pond.

  • avatar

    tech98 – the northern territory is unrestricted no more

    “Driving in the Northern Territory will never be the same after Clare Martin’s Labor Government announced today that speed limits will be imposed on Territory highways for the first time. A sad day for some, but not for many others. Right now it’s open slather on open roads. The Chief Minister says driving habits in the Territory are appalling, even in town areas where speed limits do prevail. Repeat offending is rife. One motorist, for instance, copped 47 speeding fines over three years but like all offenders, he kept his licence because the Territory still doesn’t have a demerit point system. The Territory traffic laws will now be brought into line with the rest of the country, although as a gesture to long distance drivers the new speed limit on major highways will be 130km/h.”

    Speed limits in Australia are generally low and are enforced. The traffic on city freeways really does travel at or close to the limit of 100 (or 110) km/h.

    The extent to which speed limits are ignored in Australia’s vast rural and arid areas is hard to estimate. It seems to me that those areas are very much over-represented in traffic accident statistics. Whether this is due to excessive speed or inattention (in both cases having regard to the condition of the car and the road)I don’t know – but my guess is that its a bit of everything.

    The reality is that road travel can be hazardous to your health whatever the rules. All societies with substantial road traffic tolerate a level of road trauma that’s hard to imagine would be permitted to continue if it was by any other cause (say, for example, death by electrocution).

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