Unsafe at Any Speed - The American Spectator | USA News and Politics
Unsafe at Any Speed

Speed Kills? Sure, if you’re a nation of incompetent drivers. Ask the Germans.

Lack of skill — not “speeding” — is the fountainhead of America’s traffic problems. If you disagree, then you’ve got to explain how it is that the Germans routinely drive much faster than we do — yet miraculously have lower overall accident and fatality rates. If “speed kills,” how come it’s less deadly if you’re German? Is it the water? Or is the skill level of the average German driver higher? And if it is higher, how come? Are Germans truly the Master Race — on the road, at least — or do the German authorities simply expect more, in terms of demonstrated skill and experience behind the wheel, before they turn ’em loose on the Autobahn?

Go to the head of the class if you guessed it’s more demanding licensing requirements and skills testing — not anything special about the Germans themselves.

It takes a lot to get a first-time driver’s license in Germany — as much as 25-45 hours of Fahrschule instruction, on the road, in a real car — culminating in an extensive written and practical test. The cost to pay for the necessary schooling (at an approved Fahrschule) and so forth costs about $1,500-$2,000. They don’t mess around. As a result, the road competence of the average German driver is much higher than that of the average American driver.

For example, lane discipline is drilled into German drivers. They are taught to immediately move over to the right and yield to faster-moving traffic. The ubiquitous problem we have of drivers parking in the far left lane and refusing to budge is almost unheard of in Germany — which is one reason why they can have Autobahns with cruising speeds of 100-mph-plus without problems — while we have “road rage” and radar traps.

Almost anyone (including a ten-year-old) can pull a lever from “park” into “drive” and get a vehicle rolling — and that’s about all we demand of people before issuing them a valid operator’s permit. That and a quickie written test that even Forrest Gump could pass. The “road test” in most states typically consists of a few turns around some cones in the back of a DMV parking lot. No accident avoidance instruction, no imparting of how to merge onto a busy freeway — no road test in multiple driving environments, including night time, close-in city driving, or high speed freeway, as in Germany. Get around those cones okay — and answer 20-odd questions correctly — and you’re done.

If we spent more time and energy on fostering better driving — rather than licensing just about anyone who can walk unaided into a DMV office — we’d almost certainly have fewer accidents; we’d definitely have a far less stressful, dangerous driving experience. An we could set highway limits at 75-85-mph, which is where they ought to be.

But instead, we have a “dumbed down” driving pool — and least common denominator traffic laws that assume people are too inept to handle driving faster than 55 or 65 mph on highways designed for safe travel at speeds of 75-85 mph back in the Eisenhower era.

It’s a cynical, corrupt system that has turned police into “revenue collectors” who “harass and collect” rather than “serve and protect.”

But there’s so much money at stake (tickets, insurance “surcharges,” etc.) and we’ve got so many marginal drivers already on the road that it’s not likely we’ll start emulating the Germans anytime soon. If stricter licensing requirements were laid down, probably 30-40 percent of currently licensed drivers would flunk and need to undergo remedial testing. The massive hullabaloo about people’s “right” to drive that would ensue would put a quick end to any such reform. And the fact is that many states and counties have become so dependent upon the revenue generated by trumped-up speeding tickets that it would be financially ruinous for them to change the system to focus on improving the skill of the average driver — rather than fleecing motorists.

It’s a lot like Prohibition in the 1920s.

Everyone knows the law is absurd — and many routinely do their best to evade it. Few respect it. But there’s so much money and political power at stake that changing the way things are done is about as likely as the Redskins or Falcons making the Super Bowl this year.

Eric Peters
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