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DRIVING

Record 745,000 traffic jams on Germany’s Autobahn last year

Germany's Autobahn system is known as one of the best in the world, complete with unrestricted speed limits in some sections. So you might be surprised to hear that there's a lot of waiting around in traffic queues too.

Record 745,000 traffic jams on Germany's Autobahn last year
Vehicles caught in congestion in July 2018 in Stuttgart, Baden-Württemberg. Photo: DPA

A record 745,000 traffic jams were recorded on Germany's motorways last year, the ADAC (General German Automobile Club) reported Thursday.

On average, there were more than 2000 traffic jams per day nationwide. In total, the congestion database recorded almost three percent more traffic jams in 2018 than in the previous year.

The lengths of the queues faced by drivers also grew last year by about five percent and, according to the ADAC, equalled a total distance of about 1.5 million kilometers (km), the equivalent of 38 times round the earth.

Due to these jams, drivers were forced to a standstill for a whopping 459,000 hours – that's equal to about 52 years.

Experts cited the 0.4 percent increase in vehicle mileage – calculated by the Federal Highway Research Institute – and the 3 percent rise in the number of construction sites in 2018 compared to 2017 as possible reasons for the increase in congestion.

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

NRW still worst for traffic congestion

When it comes to regions, North Rhine-Westphalia (NRW), the most populated state in Germany, continues to lead the ranking of the states with the most traffic jams. A total of 486,000 km of queues were recorded there – that's 35 percent of total congestion in Germany. NRW was followed by Bavaria (17 percent) and Baden-Württemberg (11 percent).

Meanwhile, the busiest traffic congestion day of 2018 was Thursday, June 28th. On this day summer holidays began in Bremen, Lower Saxony and Saxony-Anhalt. A huge 13,000 km of traffic congestion was recorded. This was followed by Thursday, June 21st and Wednesday October 31st, which was Reformation Day in some states.

In the course of the year there were also significant differences: June, October and November were the busiest months on the roads. In 2017, June and September were the months with the most congestion.

In the ranking of the most congested weekday, Wednesday has overtaken Thursday. On average, traffic jams measured 5,900 km on Wednesdays last year.

Those who were on the road at the weekends fared better. On average, there were around 1,500 km of traffic jams on Saturdays and around 1,400 km on Sundays.

When it comes to long-distance motorways, the A3 (Cologne – Frankfurt – Passau) again defended its top position with a huge 220 km of traffic jams last year (In 2017 that figure was 208 km). The A1 (Lübeck – Hamburg – Cologne) took second place for the first time with 214 km of congestion, followed by the A5 (Basel – Karlsruhe – Frankfurt) with 193 km.

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DRIVING

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.

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