Six reasons why I never want to drive on the Autobahn again
Germany's Autobahn may be the most famous road system in the world, but that doesn't mean that it isn't sheer hell to drive on for a part-time motorist.
First up, let’s make this clear. I am by no means a petrol head. As a child I literally used to vomit at the thought of getting into a car, so prone that I was to motion sickness.
And my aversion to those lurching chunks of metal hasn’t decreased much since. I grudgingly got round to getting my licence in my mid-20s but did so in the north of Scotland, where one of the few obstacles during my test was a renegade sheep.
I have made use of that ticket to adulthood most infrequently since. But that isn’t to say that I haven’t had my share of nerve-wracking driving experiences.
I’ve driven a wobbly little Skoda from Prague to the eastern border of the Czech Republic, where cruising speed is slightly below 200 km/h. I’ve also navigated my way through the Gordian knot that passes for a traffic system in Malaga, Spain. Neither were my idea of fun, but I’d reluctantly do them again.
The only place I won’t be going back in a hurry is the German Autobahn. Here’s why.
As if driving on a huge, ugly motorway isn’t bad enough, when I turned onto the Autobahn from Munich to Salzburg last weekend, I was immediately swallowed up by a flood of humanity spluttering its way south.
Apparently every resident of southern Germany had decided to take exactly this route down into the Alps at the very same time as me. The experience of inching along in first gear certainly helped my clutch control. But two hours staring at the back of the same VW Passat wasn’t exactly the start to my ski holiday I’d been dreaming of.
The one saving grace of traffic jams is that it means that Germans can’t attempt to break through the sound barrier. But as soon as traffic thins out, that’s exactly what they start to do.
Driving down the Autobahn you get the impression that every other motorist is terribly late for the birth of their first child.
But since Germans gave up having babies a long time ago, I think there is a more mundane truth at work - a lot of the people on “the greatest road on earth” are self-important twits who think it’s their God-given right to get from Munich to Hamburg in under three hours.
This one goes hand-in-hand with the speeding, and it is a terrifying cocktail. In Austria, where the speed limit on the motorway in 100 km/h, the Germans drive at 130 km/h, because that’s already slow for them. As soon as they’re back in their homeland, they really put the foot down. And if you get in their way, they’ll immediately let you know it.
At one point on my my Autobahn white-knuckle ride, I checked my mirrors and ventured onto the fast lane, thinking the coast was clear to overtake a truck. Before I knew it, a van was about to plough into the back of me while madly flashing his lights, apparently threatening to ram into me if I didn’t move immediately. The vehicle was travelling at such a speed that I hadn't even seen it when I prepared to change lanes.
On another occasion, a particularly impatient driver overtook me on the slow lane, despite the fact that I was driving at the speed limit.
4. Huge trucks
I can’t say if it’s like this on every stretch of the Autobahn, but between Salzburg and Munich there is a never-ending stream of trucks clogging up the slow lane.
That means you're left to battle for survival in the lane with the semi-manic "I have to get home before Tatort starts" brigade, or the "I didn’t buy this Audi to drive under 200 km/h" types in the outside lane.
The ultimate nightmare is when one truck tries to overtake another on a hill, leaving you with no choice but to move into the certain-death lane to get past.
Trying to do this at night when there are cars dancing across lanes behind you at top speed is guaranteed to leave you a twitching mess, cursing the day Gottlieb Daimler was born.
5. Crappy driving
Aside from the aggression and speed, in my six hours of hell on the Autobahn to Austria and back, I saw so much poor driving. People leave their indicators on when they are not changing lanes, people don’t indicate at all before changing lane, people change lane for no reason whatsoever and then change back seconds later.
Germans probably aren’t any better or worse at this than most other people, but when everything happens so fast, it seems like the margins of error are that much smaller.
Locals insist that most road deaths take place on smaller roads. But I don't think it's a coincidence that the United Kingdom, with strict speed limits of 70 mph on motorways, has a much lower road fatality rate than Germany.
6. You don’t have to join the rat race
At the end of the first stretch of my journey, I met up with a German relative, who is much more familiar with the roads here than I am.
She'd managed to get from Munich to Austria only using country roads - and it'd taken her an hour less than it took me, partly because the roads she drove down were free from heavy traffic.
If you value a healthy heart - and you want better views - just avoid the Autobahn altogether. I know I will next time.