Embracing Adventure “Life is either a daring adventure or nothing.” ~~Hellen Keller

My First Time Driving on the Autobahn

Autobahn A2

Sascha’s picture is sort of what driving on the Autobahn looked like in my head.

After I got my USAREUR license, I decided to start off slow. The first time I drove was to the shoppette on post. Then, a couple days later, I drove to the PX which was close by but required driving off post. Originally I planned to drive on one of the highways next and then work up to the Autobahn, but something came up where I had to drive to Landstuhl, so I didn’t get to prepare. It was 6am, dark, and snowing when I drove on the Autobahn for the first time.

I grew up in Ohio, and I still had a learner’s permit when my Grandma P picked me up from class during a snowstorm (a Level 2 if I recall correctly) and let me drive. When Grandma told my mom that I’d driven home, Mom said she didn’t know why Grandma had let me. Grandma said, “Because she said she could do it, and she got behind the wheel and did it.” She told my mom she wouldn’t have let me drive if I’d been afraid.

Flash forward about ten years later to a night where there was barely an inch of snow on the ground, and it wasn’t even coming down hard, yet I was less confident about tackling that drive than I was to drive through an actual snowstorm as a teenager. When I first started off, I was driving about 80 km/h (about 50 mph) and keeping about twice the required distance between me and any cars ahead of me. The original plan was to stay in the right lane unless I absolutely had to do otherwise, but after awhile I finally decided to pass a truck.

Autobahn

I did not take pictures while on the Autobahn, but Sandra’s picture on a snowy Autobahn is close enough…just image it being dark out.

This gave me my first experience of how rude German drivers can be. Going the speed limit of the stretch we were in (which I think was 100 km/h, about 60 mph) I began to pass the truck. I had been tempted to pass the one just ahead of it too, but someone rolled up right on my tail and flashed their highbeams, reflecting in my rearview mirror. Had I been Stateside (and therefore more comfortable), this is where I would have stayed in the lane because I was technically still in the process of passing, and he’d been rude. But I wasn’t, so I got over. It really irritated me though that this person was so impatient that he’d be willing to temporarily blind another driver just because it might take him an extra 30 seconds if he had to wait for me to pass another vehicle before he could.

Not long after that, a guy honked as he cut over into my lane. I’m used to having to watch for people doing that kind of thing. After all, it was almost a daily occurrence in Florida for people to drift out of their lane or cut across several lanes and end up in mine, but since I hadn’t driven more than a few times in the last few days and hadn’t been driving for over a year, it was a little intimidating to have people driving erratically around me. I was happy that the guy got well ahead of me. I certainly didn’t want to drive next to someone who couldn’t even manage to maintain his lane.

I was told the worst part of the trip would be parking at Landstuhl, which turned out to be pretty much correct, although I wouldn’t have thought so while I had snow kicking up at me and was trying to drive on an unfamiliar highway in the dark. (I ended up using my windshield cleaner more in that one trip than I normally would have in a few months because using them without fluid just smeared everything). I made it without incident, waited a looong time to get into Landstuhl as everyone was apparently on their way to work, and circled three lots before I found a spot (although that turned out to be right in front of where I needed to go so it didn’t work out badly).

Autobahn

It may surprise people to know that the Autobahn does have speed limits in some areas. Here’s a picture by David approaching a 130 km/h limit.

A few hours later, I made the trip back home. This time, it was bright out, the snow was a dusting, and the road was dry. This all made the drive so much easier than the first one. I was able to comfortably travel at 130 km/h (about 80 mph) most of the way (which was the speed limit most of the time anyhow). It was very strange having the Polizei come up behind me as I was going that speed and knowing it was legal. I still moved over as I didn’t want to have them behind me. That turned out to be a good decision because we came up on construction where the speed limit ended up going down to 80 km/h.

At one point I kicked it up to 145 km/h (about 90 mph) just to go a over the speed of the last ticket I got in the States and have it be legal to do so. Most of the time, I kept it to 130 km/hr though. Even when it isn’t the limit, it’s recommended not to go over that speed as an accident at a higher speed can lead the insurance company to hold you liable even if you weren’t actually at fault.

Overall, driving on the autobahn was less scary than I originally imagined it. It was just like the expressway in the States except that there wasn’t a speed limit much of the time and the parts where there were ones were generally higher than Stateside (although there were limits as low as 80 km/h in some spots). I knew it would probably take a few more trips to get used to, but it was nice to be able to say that I tackled the Autobahn…even if it did take me over a year in Germany to do so.

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6 Thoughts on “My First Time Driving on the Autobahn

  1. So much fun to read about your experience. I know that drivers can be a bit rude sometimes but I am sure you get used to it. And yeah, there are speed limits at the Autobahn but a lot of times you can drive as fast as you can…and lots of people do it. It can be a bit scary sometimes.

  2. Oh gosh, German drivers on the Autobahn SUCK! I noticed that even more after being state-side without a car and then coming back to Germany for a two-week-vacation. It irritates me IMMENSELY when I see those douchebags trying to run me off the left lane just because they want to get ahead (those 30 secs of freedom, like you said). I sometimes even slow down a bit and then take some time to pass, but that can be dangerous and provoke an accident (as I was told).
    Anyhow, drivers in NY are actually worse, from what I can tell. If it makes you feel any better… 😉
    The fastest I’ve ever driven myself must have been 180km/h. But I’ve been in a car that was going 240km/h full on. Sitting in it was way scarier than driving it, I can tell you that much. That’s how real accidents happen…

    • Yeah I imagine it could provoke an accident, although wouldn’t they be at fault since they’re behind you and clearly haven’t left enough space between the cars? Maybe NY drivers are worse because they sit in so much traffic 😛 I don’t think I’ve gone up to 180km/h. I think my max has been about 160. Given that you can be held liable for an accident even if you didn’t cause it once you get up past 130 I try not to push it. I can see why being the passenger would be scarier. At that point your life is in someone else’s hands so you have to hope they know what they’re doing and that no one darts in front of them.

      • It really depends on the situation. If you are provoking an accident by purposefully going too slow so that the person behind you cannot pass – who knows. But if you are too close to the car in front of you so that when that car suddenly breaks (for a good reason, of course), then it’s your fault. I haven’t dealt with such a situation (yet). Knock on wood!
        You must be thinking about people from L.A.! They sit in 3 hours of traffic each day. 😉 New Yorkers have a lot of traffic but the true danger lies in those ruthless cab drivers who rely on their good insurance (and occasionally run over pedestrians)… Crazy (car) world.

        • Yeah I suppose that would be true. Haha maybe. I have heard that LA traffic is terrible also. Movies with NYC always seem to have people getting out of their cab and running because of the traffic so I figured it was bad there too. I bet lol. You know I was leaving the Frankfurt airport the other day and wondered why there was a hold up where traffic seemed to stop for no reason. Apparently the cabbie in front of me hit another driver (whose fault it was I don’t know). He came up to my window and asked me something I did not understand and then he asked in mixed English and I understood Abfall that time. He thought I had seen the accident. Truthfully I hadn’t. I hadn’t realized he had hit the guy til he got out and asked about it.

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