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Autobahn redux

Once again, the drive back from Utah provokes thoughts about driving and human behavior.

In Utah, with the closest thing to a German autobahn no-speed-limit experience that you’re likely to get in the US (80 mph limits, meaning 90 mph traffic [0]), people are polite, move over, and largely don’t park in the left hand lane. Notable differences – semis still feel the need to pull out and block the fast lane to pass another semi going 2 mph slower than them; autos don’t know how to not be a blocking dick [1]; highway patrol will give you a ticket.

However, the same traffic – exactly the same autos, with exactly the same people driving them, when crossing the border into AZ, then NV, then CA, undergo personality transplants to become the fast-lane-hogging, road-blocking, failure-to-yield road-rage-filled humanity that I’m used to from LA freeways.

When you ask yourself, why do the autobahnen work so well, and why are driver so shitty in the US, a lot of it seems to come down to the speed limits. When the limit is either not there, or close enough to the reality that people are going to drive anyway, then drivers become polite and friendly. When the limits are 20 mph below what a straight-to-the-horizon six-lane freeway [2] will bear, then the very same people become assholes.


[0] To be clear, 90 mph traffic is not exactly autobahn – the default speed limit in Germany is 120 kph – 75 mph. That’s what the limit is if there is no posted limit. Where in the US do you get 75 mph? I hit 160 regularly on the 10 km commute to work – 100 mph. It seems like nothing after a while. I regularly get zoomed by every morning.

[1] I don’t have a pithy name for this – it’s watching traffic flow so that you don’t get trapped behind a semi and either have to slam on the brakes, or pull out in front of a Merc SLC going 200 kph in order not to slam on your brakes. Conversely, it’s the fellow in the Merc SLC going 200 kph flashing his headlights to let you know it’s ok to pull out in front of him to get around the truck, because when you are driving 120 mph, you pay attention to traffic around you, and there’s no need to be an asshole. Fear of flaming high-speed death will do that to you, I suppose.

[2] Every autobahn I’ve been on in Germany is a two-lane road, four-lane highway, with narrow shoulders, and an exit for [P]eeing every 5 km, lest you think that the Germans have no speed limits because they have US-like superhighways. One of the few things I love about Germany is the autobahn and a rest stop every few miles. Driving back the 700 miles from Utah, there were perhaps 4 legal single-purpose rest stops, and 2 of them were closed for repair.