I have a dirty little confession to make: I’ve never really liked driving on German Autobahns.
I know, I know, that makes me some kind of crumble-crutch when we all know – hand on hearts – that the Autobahn is one of the last places on earth that isn’t a dry salt lake where you can go absolutely balls-to-the-wall and not wind up in gaol... necessarily.
True, but it’s always occurred to me that you might end up toe-tagged. While it’s a fact that shunts are relatively rare on Autobahns, when they do happen, they only really come in one size. I’ve seen horrendous footage of high-end German cars pin-balling down the ’bahn for kilometres when it suddenly goes all Pete Tong at two-dollars-fifty-and-change.
The problem, as I see it, is a simple one of a generation gap. Which is to say we’re dealing with a rather deadly combination of 1930s run-off and 2015 velocities. See, when the Austrian painter was doing his own, perverted, version of stopping the boats, it didn’t matter quite so much that the Armco was the emergency lane. When an 1100cc VW Beetle had a top whack of maybe 130km/h, the narrow lanes and lack of run-off was less of a problem.
Now, however, when you’ve got Guido steaming along at 270 in two tonnes of Panzerwagen, texting his schmaltz-burger order through to the restaurant up the road, things are a mite different.
Now, I know what you’re going to say: aren’t German drivers attentive and skilled, and don’t they have the right attitude to staying out of each other’s grilles? Well, they did. Once upon a time. But I’ve just been back over to the Fatherland and I did a few hundred kliks of Autobahn work, and, mate, things have changed.
I have never seen such lousy lane-discipline as I did recently. In the old days, the fast lane would be empty apart from a 911 Turbo or a black S-Class pulling somewhere north of 220 and giving the odd flash of the high-beams to warn Matey in the Yugo not to change lanes right at that moment.
Now, you’ve got all sorts of dungers and snoozers inhabiting the fast lane, all pretending to be overtaking something, but usually just dawdling. And where, just a few short years ago, a quick flash of the halogens would clear a path, these days it just warms the paint on the bootlid of the Honda Civic in front of you. Who isn’t watching his mirrors anyway. Autobahn travel is now, as my colleague observed, like driving in Queensland.
The rednecks out there will doubtless claim that it’s immigration that’s the problem, and that gypsies and asylum seekers shouldn’t be allowed on Autobahns. But I don’t think that’s the case. The cars I saw making nuisances of themselves were all German registered and didn’t appear to be horse-drawn. Instead, I reckon it’s probably just a case of the authorities having stopped policing the fast-lane rule and the fact that Germany is not immune to the scourge of Gen Y-style boorish behaviour.
The tragedy, of course, is that Autobahns no longer offer the chance to cover a lot of ground extremely quickly. And for my money, that’s all they were really good for in the first place.
And what happens when people can’t use something like a 911 Turbo for what it was designed? They’ll stop making cars like that, that’s what. And I’ll blame 21st-century-Autobahn bad manners when that happens. Trust me, I didn’t like Autobahns before and now I like them even less.