By on April 27, 2010

Deutsche Straßen sind nicht der Nürburgring.

But there I go, quoting German Minister of Transportation Peter Ramsauer out of context, and in the original. Herr Ramsauer’s rebuke comes on news of a late-night crash involving a future Mercedes ML Class prototype, that resulted in the death of a 26-year old man over the weekend. The crash took place on a stretch of non-speed-limited autobahn between Singen and Stuttgart, favored by Mercedes and Porsche for high-speed testing. Apparently the victim had been involved in a minor accident and was trying to exit his vehicle (stalled in the left lane, according to Der Spiegel) when the Mercedes test mule slammed into his car, killing him instantly. The 52-year old test driver is under investigation for negligent homicide.

Minister Ramsauer’s full quote in Autobild goes something like this:

We must wait for the results of the investigation. Test drivers are professionals. They should not behave themselves like Rambo, rather their driving must serve as an example to the rest of traffic. The German streets are not the Nürburgring

Of course, don’t expect the good Minister to actually change the speed limit laws. After all, the German automakers have long enjoyed an advantage over their competitors thanks to Germany’s autobahn system. If only in the PR and marketing departments. But then, why wouldn’t the phrase “autobahn tuned” come up in the vast majority of Mercedes ML sales?

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36 Comments on “Quote Of The Day: The Politics Of Limitless Speed Edition...”

  • avatar
    Dr. Kenneth Noisewater

    Unlimited speed A-bahn is still safer than American highways.

    And I wonder why the tester didn’t pass on the right/shoulder? Presumably he’d have had full control even under hard braking via ABS..

    • 0 avatar

      Part of the reason the A-Bahn system is safer than American highways is that there aren’t alot of American drivers on them.

      Obtaining a license in Germany require more than the ability to fog a mirror.

    • 0 avatar

      Noisewater is spot on. However if this so-called “test-driver” for Mercedes was a skilled driver, why was he going so fast, when it appears that it happened at night? The photograph looks like it was taken at night. If the test-driver was skilled, he would have noticed the emergency flashers on the car in the left lane, and also back down since it was at night- didn’t he think that some sort of fauna would come out? Then what? No doubt Germans are phenomenal drivers, but they can get feisty in the left lane.

      On a personal note, there are times where I am driving along I-70 from Lambert St. Louis to get home (3hrs away), and I want to open my A4 up, but I can only do that during the day as long as it is dry and clear (I drive based on conditions), most around here do not (no headlights on when it rains, etc). Then again, there is always some yahoo hogging the left lane, and doesn’t understand what “flash to pass” means…

  • avatar

    “Negligent homicide” is negligent homicide whether you are going 200 MPH on the autobahn or 20 MPH in a school zone. Inattention kills more people than speed.


    • 0 avatar

      Agreed. A motorcycle cop hit a child while responding to a call in a city near me. The bus was stopped with the sign out and children exiting. No excuse whether responding to a call or not. The child was critically injured. The handlebar of the bike hit him in the head. This isn’t just an uninformed comment. I know some city officials there.

  • avatar

    Should the tester reasonably expect that there could be a broken down car on the road, and any part of the road? Id think so. Should a reasonable person drive only at speeds where they can avoid any potential road hazards that are likely to occur? Probably. But we’d have to know where on the road the driver was – what was the forward visibility for this area compared to other parts of the Autobahn? Perhaps unlimited speed is fine, but there are areas where one might want to self limit.

  • avatar

    Correct me if I am wrong but isn’t the left lane the “fast” lane on the autobahn? If I was a person in the “fast” lane on the autobahn and I stalled, I would have my car in neutral and coasting the hell out of that lane as fast as I could. If he was in the fast lane I am assuming he was moving fast at some point. If he allowed a stalled car to coast to rest in the fast lane on the autobahn I would think he bears some responsibility for the accident, as unfortunate as that is.

  • avatar

    Typically, when a car stalls there is enough play in the steering wheel to inch it to the left, and enough coast left in the car to make that small inch of the wheel enough to get you into (what looks like from the picture) a fairly sizeable shoulder. How does one get in a minor accident in the left lane of the autobahn that instantly sends the car from autobahn speed to zero? Why couldnt this person get out of the left lane and onto the shoulder? What kind of idiot would ever stop in the left lane? And how would it occur that a minor accident that I suspect occurred while the car was moving would result in a situation where there was no way to get out of the left lane?

    • 0 avatar

      After reading some new articles on this, it would seem that “The young man was having some problems with his car that led to a minor collision with a guard rail on the left side median. Two other motorists stopped and volunteered to help the man.” So, in other words, he broke down. If the wheels were still attached, he could have came to rest somewhere safer. If his wheels did fall off or his car was otherwise able to suddenly end up in a condition that rendered him without control over it, it was unfit for the road.

  • avatar

    Porschespeed is right, the skill of the German driver is so far ahead of North American drivers. It’s not even close.
    The lane discipline and very little of that “me first” attitude is why I love visiting my relatives in Hannover whenever I can.
    That’s why it’s such a surprise to hear someone dying after stalling in the left lane – on the Autobhan with a Mercedes test driver no less.
    I know from driving the Autobahn that you genuinely trust the other drivers to make the right decision for whatever might come up -traffic, weather etc- because they always do, it’s incredible.
    The same situation almost anywhere in NA would be terrifying but over there…no problem at all…and everyone’s going a hell of a lot faster.
    Maybe the Merc test driver took this trust too far by assuming no one would ever stop in the left lane – which is never done – and someone died as a result.

    • 0 avatar

      I so agree. Stay out of the left lane unless passing and no passing on the right period. Always use your signal. Ignoring these laws will get you big tickets there. I’m told that a German drivers license is expensive and nearly impossible to get back if you lose it due to bad driving.

  • avatar

    if a native German can clarify…..I recall that there is only a very narrow left-hand hard shoulder in Germany. Presumably to discourage stopping on the left?

    Naturally that doesn’t excuse people from being vigilant in the left lane.

  • avatar

    I would hope that blame here in this case is a non-issue. Even with the best laws, and best drivers things can and will go wrong … in isolated situations. In other words: Scheiße geschieht.

  • avatar

    I think that even in the U.S. having a stalled car in the left lane would be unexpected. Is there any indication about how fast the MB tester was driving? What were the conditions? Something like this can happen anywhere, I don’t know that it being on the Autobahn makes any difference.

  • avatar


    Perhaps memory is failing but IIRC, aren’t there cameras on just about every kilometer of major Autobahn, as well as incredibly thorough monitoring of said video?

    That, and even the “unlimited” portions subject to the flexible limits that are in place on the more normally congested sections?

    That, and aren’t the “unlimited” sections (as well as all major Autobahns) fitted with a minimum 3m shoulder on either side?

    The scenario just seems rather odd. Not that someone would wad a car up on an unlimited section, but that there was someone in the left lane, that there wasn’t a crew there in stupid fast response time for the initial accident.

    • 0 avatar

      I’ve been there an driven on it. Most of it has limits and yes some has adjustable limits. The limit will be reduced in bad weather and heavy congestion. In the more rural areas it is far less limited to near unlimited. I say it that way because I have been told by some German colleagues that there is a national limit. If there is I don’t know what that limit is. The cameras are placed mostly in trouble spots and there are signs warning that you are coming up on a camera “patrolled” stretch. Some of the stretches have had lanes added toward the center and have guard rail dividers/barriers to oncoming traffic. There was no place to pull off on the left in some areas. If possible you are supposed to get out of the traveling lanes when there is a minor accident. This sounds like it could have been one of those areas.

    • 0 avatar

      Further to what rcdickey said; The Autobhan is not a flat out speed limit free zone. There are limits not just for weather and congestion but lane reductions, construction, merging onto other motorways etc, as low as 80kmh as I recall.
      I assume there are cameras installed on those outdoor displays stretched across the motorway advising of the speed limit, anywhere from 100-140 kmh, but not to the Orwellian extent such as in the UK. Other times there’s this beautiful sign showing a circle with a double cross out which you can see miles away, not to mention everyone starts pulling away from you. I really can’t say how wide the left shoulder is because you’re only in the left lane long enough to pass and then get the hell out of the way, but I’ll assume not wide enough to encourage stopping.
      That’s why I cannot imagine stopping in the left lane for any reason, if you have a problem you move to the right and pull off, and this is ingrained into the German psyche.
      I have driven about 10000 kilometers (Yes I counted)on the German road system and I’ve never seen that. In fact I can tally the bad or aggressive drivers I’ve seen there on my one hand.
      My relatives say it’s because Germans have so many rules and regulations to follow the Autobhan gives them that release and there’s no culture of entitlement that inflicts so many of us in NA.
      IMHO the speed limits and the road rules -like all German innovations- are well planned and thought out. They’re there for a reason and you’d be an idiot not to notice them.
      I’m probably over romanticizing the German driver to some extent but their skill with their cars, the road system and the assertive but professional way they drive is something I view with extreme envy and why it’s such a crushing letdown to drive in my hometown after a trip back from Germany.

  • avatar

    I’ve driven flat out on the autobahn. I just wish it had been a better car! An Opel rental just doesn’t cut it. It still managed 200kph. I was asked to go back over for 6 weeks starting in June. I ran the other way. Germany is a nice place but going there to work is not a vacation!

    • 0 avatar

      Yeah I’ve only had rentals as well, everything from a Golf hatch and wagon, to a Volvo V70, and an Opel Vectra and Meriva.
      All would do 200 kmh quite nicely except for the Meriva which was scary to drive above 160 kmh, but it’s a jellybean shaped people carrier so speed is not it’s forte I guess.
      Frankly I would take any chance to work there just to experience the thrill of driving but that’s just me.

  • avatar

    We had a similar case near where i live last summer.. A van breaks down on the motorway, stops on the left shoulder, car changes lane to pass someone in the right lane and hits the broken down van in the rear. Speedlimit 120kph, probably going slightly faster than that. Van driver basically unhurt(still in the van), both persons in the car dead on the scene. This was an 80s Astro van and a E39 BMW 5-series, if anyone’s interested.

  • avatar

    Yikes. I am sure this poor test driver fellow is wishing all he did was leave a phone behind on a bar stool. I am sure the other fellow’s family is wishing that too.

  • avatar

    The accident occurred at night. How well was the road illuminated? Are the unlimited speeds allowed at night? Is the illumination on the Autobahn good enough to allow you to overdrive your headlights?

  • avatar
    Chicago Dude

    My own experience on the Autobahns is that the average speed is pretty close to the same as in the USA and the average driver skill is pretty close to the same as the USA. Obviously, Germans are superior drivers in every regard so I attribute these facts to the high concentration of American tourists and Polish migrants.

    Also, the number of drivers traveling entirely too fast for prevailing traffic levels seems much higher on the Autobahns than the US Interstates and the average car wreck tended to be a high-performance version of an expensive car on its roof instead of an unmaintained jalopy that ran into something in the USA.

    • 0 avatar

      i think germany has stricter rules and enforcement, which cuts down somewhat on the dumbass factor. somebody correct me if i’m wrong.

    • 0 avatar

      Germany has much stricter rules for car inspections than any U.S. state. As a result, jalopies are much less common in Germany, and those on the road tend to be from outside the country.

      From my experience, speeds on the Autobahn are higher than speeds on most Northeastern interstates. Here in Pennsylvania the average speed on limited access highways is about 70-75 mph. In Germany, it’s more like 80-85 mph.

      It is not uncommon to see vehicles traveling at 95+ mph in Germany – and not just Porsches and high-performance BMWs. I was amazed at the number of middle-aged couples driving BMWs, Audis, Opels, Fords and VWs at 95 mph.

      Of course, rolling junk is uncommon because of the stricter inspection requirements, and lane discipline is practiced religiously.

    • 0 avatar

      i think germany has stricter rules and enforcement

      They have consistent enforcement instead of relying on “blitzes” or traps the way we do. It’s not necessarily stricter, just consistent.

      Any parent of young children can tell you this is a good thing: one of the worst things you can do, if you want good behaviour, is inconsistently enforce rules: it encourages people to test the limits. You can be liberal or strict, but you need to be consistent about it.

  • avatar

    As a hard-core German motorist, I would like to comment about the Autobahn and the US Interstate.

    Yes, some of you are correct about the regulations and rules that seem to border on insanity. This makes the high-speed driving a pleasure. However, there are some stupid drivers from other countries who don’t know a head from foot. That includes some of Germans who had gone through the driver’s training in Germany.

    Some of drivers would just blob along forever on the middle lane in the six-lane highways with no vehicles on the right lanes. The rules require them to move to the right lanes as soon as the condition warrants.

    Sometimes, some of the drivers would just “jump” as to overtake the slower vehicles, forcing us to jam the brakes so hard and do the congo thing before this stupid driver scurries slowly to the right lane after overtaking.

    The worst thing is those lorry drivers from other countries taking lot of sweet time to overtake the slower lorries, especially on the four-lane Autobahn. It only pissed us ever more.

    The reason for no emergency lanes adjacent to the inner lane is that it is too dangerous for everyone. If there is a breakdown, the driver is required to place the warning triangle about 10 meters from their disabled cars. The drivers would often press the hazard flashing lights as to warn the drivers behind them to slow down. As in this story, it is sometimes unrealistic to expect everyone to move to the emergency lane promptly.

    About the speed limit, EU has pressurised Germany to impose the national speed limit. Germany proposed the “recommended” speed limit of 130km/h as to appease the angry gods. However, more and more states are imposing 120km/h speed limit even on the good stretch which can be driven faster than 120km/h. The worst offencer is Baden-Württemburg since it always put 120km/h speed limit on six-lane Autobahn but no speed limit on four-lane.

    Yes, many stretches of Autobahn have night-time speed limit of 120km/h from 22.00 to 06.00, mainly due to the noctunal animals.

    We have what is called “3C” speed limit: Congestion, Climate, and Condition. The latter is mostly attributed to the steep curves of Autobahn. Germans don’t blow up the mountains just to build the straight-lined Autobahn as the Americans do. They must accommodate the geographical features. Whenever there’s inclement weather, we either have posted speed limit of 80-100km/h when the road is wet or the adjustable speed limit that flashes whenever there’s low visible condition.

    I feel more safe driving on Autobahn at 200km/h than on US Interstate at 120km/h because of the discipline amongst the drivers in Germany. Some Americans are opportunistic, looking for ways to render the service of greedy lawyers and peruse the legal system to fatten their wallets.


    • 0 avatar

      Thanks for the additional input Oliver. I do remember having to leave Baden-Württemburg to get to a stretch for flat out driving. I did that run on the way to Austria to visit the Eagles Nest. Still didn’t get there before it closed. The drive was a blast though. The C 180 I was following kept having to slow down to wait on me to catch up in my poor Opel rental. I enjoyed my Winter time visit (fresh snow on the ground) to Neuschwanstein Castle more than any of the other places I visited. Heidelberg was a great visit as well. I had to stay 2 weeks in Ahlen without a car. Even that wasn’t so bad. Hopefully I haven’t gotten any of the names mixed up, lol.

    • 0 avatar

      “I feel more safe driving on Autobahn at 200km/h than on US Interstate at 120km/h because of the discipline amongst the drivers in Germany.”
      Well said Oliver, that sums it up quite nicely.
      It should also be said the brakes on almost any car in Germany are incredible, not to mention a lack of BOF SUVS and four door pick ups clogging the motorways like we put up with here in NA.

  • avatar

    I am getting ready to do 7 hours of Autobahn driving after work today. I love it. I will purposely drive an hour out of the way to find a little less traffic and no geschwindigkeitsbegrenzung (speed limit). The driving test here costs about 3 grand and is much more intensive than in the US. Plus, if you are in the habit of driving in the left lane like a grandma, some BMW or Porsche driver will get up on your ass and flash his lights and honk his horn until you figure out the rules.

  • avatar
    Tricky Dicky

    10 years of living in Belgium has taught me that our near neighbours in Germany are excellent drivers and have fabulous tarmac. Always love the occasional spin out to the Nurburgring. On the whole, Belgian drivers try to drive like they are on the Autobahn, travelling regularly over 160kmh and often leaving a safety gap as much as 5 metres from the next car (15 foot). They will sit in the middle or the outside lane even if there is plenty of space in the inside (slow) lanes because if you ever indicate to show your intention to move into a faster lane, the person behind will accelerate to close the gap so you don’t get in their way. So people stay put or don’t indicate.

    And what might be a little bit of rain in France or Germany creating some minor amount of spray, suddenley becomes a life threatening deluge when you arrive in Belgium. The rain isn’t any heavier, it’s just that the Government mandates that all highways must be constructed with low noise tarmac, the corollary of which is massive quantities of surface water from poor drainage.

  • avatar

    ah yes, the A8…some good times along that stretch of Autobahn (though most of my driving was done from Landau/Karlsruhe to Pforzheim and then Stuttgart.

    As I recall, the “recommended” limit of 130 kmh is just that…recommended. Don’t be in the left lane when the traffic sign comes up with no limit if you’re driving something slow. And for the record, flashing the headlights is verboten officially, though I still see people doing it.

    Just to illustrate the mindset differences between German traffic control and American…I’m getting ready to merge onto the A8 coming out of Karlsruhe, ahead of me are two cars and a Polizei motorcycle. It becomes apparent that the lead car is in no hurry to build speed to round the bend and merge. So what does the good officer on the motorcyle do? He speeds up alongside the driver of the lead car and “enthusiastically” relays to the driver of the car to speed up. Can you imagine one of our finest out on some interstate actually trying to get a driver to go faster (without motivations of issueing a citation, of course)?

    And for the record, 250 kmh sure feels awfully fast…:)

    • 0 avatar
      Amendment X

      “He speeds up alongside the driver of the lead car and “enthusiastically” relays to the driver of the car to speed up.”

      This is the kind of society I want to live in. Fascinating.

    • 0 avatar

      It’s not that surprising. Some idiots are in the mindset that “speed is not authorized, so i’m the smartestest to be as slow as possible” You can see these kind of self rightous inbreds going 20 below the speed limit but ignoring, stop signs, redlights and not using turn signals (because, you know, he’s slow, so it’s safe…).

      Following the rules is safe… rewriting them in your head to make you feel good is sheer stupidity. Being stuck behind a slow bonehead in a merging lane is a good way to get in an accident… Nearly as bad as the overachiever that want at all costs to merge in front of a car with right of the way (in the last meters of the merging lane usually)

  • avatar

    i hate when people drive slow in the left lanes of interstate highways. even worse is when you get up behind someone and they wave at you like you’re the asshole who doesn’t know how to drive.

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