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Autobahn Driving Experiences

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Good Morning Football host Kyle Brandt shares his experience on the Autobahn when visiting Germany for the NFL's debut there. His main takeaway is that it was an awesome experience but he doesn't think it could ever work in the US. Figured I'd put this here and see if anyone had any comments or Autobahn experiences of their own to share.

I've only been a passenger, and only in the later 1990s.  I was in high school back then.

Once was in a Fiat motorhome, (five in the tree) that couldn't go any faster than 70 mph.  The family we rode with lived in the Stuttgart area, and we went as far north as Leipzig.  I remember crossing what used to be the border between East Germany and West Germany;  if it weren't for a sign announcing the fact and our travel companions mentioning it, we'd never have known it used to be such a sharp divide in such recent times.  The driver told us that, back before the wall came down, he once drove into East Germany, and crossing the border took about 48 hours—including removing the seats during vehicle search.

The other time was in a Renault minivan, for only about 100 miles or less to/from Rottweil.  I remember my mom thinking we were going awfully fast, and she asked me to look at the speedometer.  After some quick mental math, I replied that we were going 99 mph.  The driver said he preferred to never go faster than 160 km/h because his tires were only rated up to that speed.

I do remember when that first driver missed a turn while we were on our way between two towns.  I mentioned to my parents, "I think we just missed our turn back there".  She told the driver, and he asked, "How do you know?"  And, of course, she answered, "Because my son said we did."  You might be a roadgeek if...

J N Winkler:
I have also been only a car passenger, and in the early noughties I travelled along segments of the A81 between the Swiss border and Stuttgart as well as the A8 between Stuttgart and Pforzheim, all within Baden-Württemberg.  (I have distant cousins in Switzerland and they owned property in Germany at the time.)  Some of the construction clearly postdated World War II, while there were still surviving segments of original 1930's concrete on the A8 with bridge substructure elements covered with dressed stone.  The terrain ranged from rolling to mountainous with some fully derestricted lengths and others subject to dynamic limits.  Most of the distance along our itinerary had just two lanes per direction, though I suspect some of it has since been expanded to three lanes divided.

Driving the Autobahn struck me as stressful.  Truck volumes were quite high, partly because Germany is a transit country and partly because in Europe generally the roads take up a much greater share of freight (on a tonne-kilometer basis) than in the US.  Truck speed limits are lower, meaning that just a single truck constrains passing opportunity for vehicles seeking to cruise at 130 km/h or better.  Many Germans (and nationals of adjacent countries) prefer to take advantage of truck bans on Sundays, but it is then more like running a relay race--there is heavy psychological pressure to drive at the edge of your comfort level to maintain access to overtaking opportunities and to complete overtakes without impeding faster vehicles.

Although the motorway network is quite large, the driver population is proportionately larger than in many US states, especially in the Midwest.  I have not been able to find good numbers on licensed driver population in Germany, but there are apparently 45 million cars in private household use that have access to a bit over 13,000 km of motorway (3460 drivers per centerline kilometer).  Compare this with Kansas, where 2 million licensed drivers have access to over 1600 km of freeway (1250 drivers per centerline kilometer).  While traffic distribution cannot be equal for a variety of structural reasons--on the German side, these include a relative lack of urban motorway as well as the much greater dependence on road haulage--this translates to a greater expectation of congestion on the network as a whole as well as relative scarcity of "quiet" Autobahn.

In my view, Americans who allow themselves to be dazzled by the derestricted motorways, stricter driving rules, etc. in Germany do not understand just how good they have it in the US.

Truck traffic is now much more dense than in the early 1990s, due to German reunification and the opening up of Central Europe.

There are many Autobahn stretches where truck volumes are over 10,000 per day, even 20,000 per day can be reached on busy corridors.

The number of construction sites has also exploded across Germany, it's not uncommon for an average of 1 construction zone per 20 or 30 kilometers over the summer. Most of these are for regular maintenance, which in Germany often means a complete overhaul down to the base. The frequency of construction zones varies a lot by route though, and also by year.

The German Autobahn is very congested compared to the traffic volumes you'll typically see in most of the U.S. outside of metro areas. Most rural intercity routes carry over 50,000 - 60,000 per day (some over 80,000 and near 100,000 outside of cities), which combined with the high truck share, makes the road crowded much of the day.

Left lane hogging is much less common though, most people do drive at least 120-130 km/h. But I feel the experience of driving really fast (180 or faster) is becoming less common. I drive through Germany multiple times per year and the amount of fast driving (over 160 km/h) has decreased significantly on most routes. Traffic is just too dense throughout the day. Even Sundays during the summer season tend to have dense traffic and quite a bit of congestion.

I though noughties referred to the early 2000s


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