Study: German drivers play dirty to be king of the road

Michael Schumacher had a reputation for stopping at nothing to get ahead in races. A new study shows many Germans seem to have taken a leaf or two out of his book.

Study: German drivers play dirty to be king of the road
Photo: nikoretro / Flickr Creative Commons

Forty-four percent of German men and 39 percent of German women admit to sometimes driving aggressively, according to the Verkehrsklima in Deutschland 2016 (traffic environment in Germany 2016) study on Wednesday.

The study, which was also conducted in 2008 and 2010, asked over 2,000 participants about their driving behaviour and sense of safety in German traffic.

The results suggest that the normally law-abiding Germans seem to let loose once they put their foot on the gas pedal. 

Many admitted to using dirty – and apparently dangerous – tricks to gain an advantage over other drivers.

A quarter of respondents said that they put their foot on the accelerator when another driver tries to overtake them, while around 20 percent admitted to closing the gap between them and the car in front to prevent a driver from completing an overtaking manoeuvre.

And if they're the ones trying to pass a slower vehicle, Germans are often just as willing to flout the rules of the road: 23 percent said they wouldn’t shy away from using the slow lane to overtake.

Men are more likely to resort to this dirty trick than women, with 28 percent of males making the admission, as opposed to 19 percent of women.

The legacy of a motor race legend?

The Germans’ inner “Schumi” really comes out when they’re being challenged on the road.

A whopping 30 percent say they briefly step on the brakes to irritate people tailgating them, and a similar number said they “blow off steam” if they get annoyed with other drivers. Eighteen percent meanwhile said they get a sense of satisfaction from overtaking cars on the open road.

Men are more likely than women to let out their inner racer.

If someone is blocking the fast lane, 35 percent of men tailgate to make them move – that’s almost twice as many as women.

More than a third of men will also tailgate if someone in front of them drives too slowly for their liking, which just under a quarter of women would do.

All things considered, it's perhaps not too surprising that about half the participants in the survey said that driving in Germany was stressful.

“Space for traffic has gotten scarce. Many drivers feel that the growing competition is uncomfortable,” researcher Siegfried Brockmann told Der Westen.

Nonetheless, two-thirds of German road users still said they feel safe driving, compared to only about 50 percent in 2010.

Brockmann thinks the increase is due to improved confidence among women.

“We have a generation of women behind the wheel who are confidently driving their vehicles,” he said.

Let's just hope not too confidently.

SEE ALSO: Eight things you never knew about the German Autobahn

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COMPARE: Which countries in Europe have the strictest drink-drive limits?

Certain countries around Europe have stricter policies than others regarding drinking and driving and harsher punishments for those caught exceeding legal limits. Here's what you need to know.

COMPARE: Which countries in Europe have the strictest drink-drive limits?

European countries set their own driving laws and speed limits and it’s no different when it comes to legal drink-drive limits.

While the safest thing to do of course, is to drink no alcohol at all before driving it is useful to know what the limit is in the country you are driving in whether as a tourist or as someone who frequently crosses European borders by car for work.

While some countries, such as the Czech Republic, have zero tolerance for drinking and driving, in others people are allowed to have a certain amount of alcohol in their blood while driving.

However, not only can the rules be different between countries, they are usually stricter for commercial (or bus) drivers and novice drivers as well. Besides that, the blood alcohol concentration (BAC) is extremely difficult to estimate, so the old “one beer is ok” standards no longer safely apply.

In the end, the only way to be safe is to avoid consuming alcohol before driving. Any amount will slow reflexes while giving you dangerous higher confidence. According to the UK’s National Health Service, there is no ‘safe’ drinking level.

How is blood alcohol level measured?

European countries mostly measure blood alcohol concentration (BAC), which is the amount, in grams, of alcohol in one litre of blood.

After alcohol is consumed, it will be absorbed fast from the stomach and intestine to the bloodstream. There, it is broken down by a liver-produced enzyme.

Each person will absorb alcohol at their own speed, and the enzyme will also work differently in each one.

The BAC will depend on these metabolic particularities as well as body weight, gender, how fast and how much the person drank, their age and whether or not (and how much) they have eaten, and even stress levels at the time.

In other words there are many things that may influence the alcohol concentration.

The only way to effectively measure BAC is by taking a blood test – even a breathalyser test could show different results. Still, this is the measuring unit used by many EU countries when deciding on drinking limits and penalties for drivers.

Here are the latest rules and limits.

Austria, Denmark, France, Germany, Italy, Spain, Switzerland, Greece, Netherlands, Belgium, Portugal, and Croatia

In most EU countries, the limit is just under 0.5g/l for standard drivers (stricter rules could be in place for novice or professional drivers).

This could be exceeded by a man with average weight who consumed one pint of beer (containing 4.2% alcohol) and two glasses of red wine (13% alcohol) while having dinner.

If a person is caught driving with more than 0.8g/l of blood alcohol content in Austria, they can pay fines of up to € 5,900 and to have their license taken for one year in some cases.

In France, if BAC exceeds 0.8g/l, they could end up with a 2-year jail sentence and a € 4,500 fine. In Germany, penalties start at a € 500 fine and a one-month license suspension. In Greece, drunk drivers could face up to years of imprisonment.

In Denmark, first time offenders are likely to have their licences suspended and could be required to go on self-paid alcohol and traffic courses if BAC levels are low. Italy has penalties that vary depending on whether or not the driver has caused an accident and could lead to car apprehension, fines and prison sentences.

In Spain, going over a 1.2g/l limit is a criminal offence that could lead to imprisonment sentences and hefty fines. 

Norway, Sweden, and Poland

In Norway, Sweden, and Poland, the limit for standard drivers is 0.2g/l. It could take a woman with average weight one standard drink, or one can of beer, to reach that level.

Penalties in Norway can start at a one month salary fine and a criminal record. In Poland, fines are expected if you surpass the limit, and you could also have your license revoked and receive a prison sentence.

Czech Republic, Hungary, and Slovakia

The Czech Republic, Hungary, and Slovakia have one of the strictest rules in the European Union. There is no allowed limit of alcohol in the blood for drivers.

In the Czech Republic, fines start at € 100 to € 800, and a driving ban of up to one year can be instituted for those driving with a 0.3 BAC level. However, the harshest penalties come if the BAC level surpasses 1 g/l, fines can be up to € 2,000, and drivers could be banned from driving for 10 years and imprisoned for up to three years.

This is intended to be a general guide and reference. Check the current and specific rules in the country you plan to travel to. The easiest and best way to be safe and protect yourself and others is to refrain from drinking alcohol and driving.