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I was in Germany this summer. My friend and I went to visit her parents. Her parents wanted me to see a historic town nearbye. We got in the car. The father drove down the road at 190 kilometers per hour. The other cars were also going fast. I saw cars at an intersection make turns, in front of other cars, that I would never do in the USA, because I would never trust the other drivers to behave correctly. But in Germany the drivers are very well trained.

My friend got her driver's license in Germany when she was an adult. It was very expensive and she had to go through several courses. She had to prove that she could drive at night and during the day, and in a dense urban center, and also out on the highways, away from any cities. She was given multiple tests. It was a serious training effort.

This is the paradox of the American emphasis on freedom. The attitude tends to be juvenile. The American mindset, at its crudest, is something like, "You got to give me a car, man, because I'm free, man, I've got freedom, so give me a the right to drive man, authority sucks, man, the government sucks, I'm free so I can drive, you can't stop me, man." So the drivers are untrained, so the government responds by treating all drivers as if they are badly behaving children.

In Germany the attitude is "We (the government) will train you very well, and then we will trust you to be adults who can make wise choices."

One thing I never saw in Germany: cops hiding behind trees, hoping to catch people who were speeding. Traffic cops are very common in the USA, but basically unknown in Germany, since the major highways don't have speed limits.

Another thing I noticed in Germany, where there is a speed limit, people drive that limit, and not 5 kilometers above the speed limit. The drivers make the assumption that the government must have had some good reason for imposing a speed limit.




> One thing I never saw in Germany: cops hiding behind trees, hoping to catch people who were speeding. Traffic cops are very common in the USA, but basically unknown in Germany, since the major highways don't have speed limits.

You won't see them much on the motorway, since for most of it there isn't a speed limit, but radar controls in towns and rural areas are somewhat common.

> Another thing I noticed in Germany, where there is a speed limit, people drive that limit, and not 5 kilometers above the speed limit. The drivers make the assumption that the government must have had some good reason for imposing a speed limit.

You'll literally only ever see that when A) the driver is some old person driving carefully, or B) the area is common for radar controls, or has radar traps installed. The unwritten rule is to drive 10km/hour faster, according to the speedometer, than the speed limit allows, which works out to ~5km/hour over the limit, due to the way speedometers are calibrated.


The autobahns do have limits that change dynamically from "infinite" to "some value less than infinite" due to weather, construction, congestion, accidents, etc.

And there are speed cameras in some of these stretches. I have nasty collection letters from Hertz and Avis to confirm it.


> The unwritten rule is to drive 10km/hour faster, according to the speedometer...

Absolutely. Traffic light timing even takes that into account. Kind of unrelated, sometimes I'm puzzled about how many drivers are eager to be first at the next red light and wait the longest.


Yes. When I lived in Germany (circa 1996-2001) this was very noticeable. Germans, at least West Germans, talked about speed cameras the way Brits talk about the weather.


It wasn't until I (American) spent many years living in Europe that I really came to appreciate the effect that the order of foundational moral values has on the nuts and bolts behavior of a given society.

France puts equality above all else, and therefore you get "Frenchness" (we are all/should be equally French) above all else, with the accompanying discomfort with competing identities and fixation on the single correct identity.

America, as you correctly described, places freedom on top. It took me a long time to see how putting freedom on top of the stack leads to an insecure and juvenile culture.

And Germany, after the war, it put human dignity on top. This is a quiet, non-ostentatious value to organize society around, that does not advertise itself. But it is very good at quietly producing whole, confident humans.


> because I would never trust the other drivers to behave correctly. But in Germany the drivers are very well trained.

This is the true value of proper education. [1] [2]

And this holds in general for all aspects of education, not just school or driver's license.

I never got the "freedom to be stupid" attitude of certain countries.

You can't explain that to somebody who never experienced it, but once you are used to it, you'll miss it immediately once there is a lack of it.

To put a perhaps bad analogy, this is like having no running water, but having the "freedom" to buy 10 different sorts of bottled water to use for showering.

[1] I'm not saying that the German educational system is perfect, or even remotely the best in Europe. But it is so much better than in most other countries.

[2] And "proper" education of course includes critical thinking and rudimentary evaluation of information sources. And also I don't mean narrow-minded pseodo-critical thinking, but being able to see through those as well.


Good points!

One little addition:

> Another thing I noticed in Germany, where there is a speed limit, people drive that limit, and not 5 kilometers above the speed limit. The drivers make the assumption that the government must have had some good reason for imposing a speed limit.

I guess the fact that the limits are higher also has some influence on this?

I remember a Dutch engineer telling me that when they increased the speed limits years ago the average speed sunk and it was hypothesized that it was (IIRC) because as the limits became more reasonable more people decided to just follow them.


> I guess the fact that the limits are higher also has some influence on this?

See the other comments on that people definitely go above posted speed limits, but limits are also not necessarily higher.

Cities are 50kph (30mph) with residential areas often at 30kph (20mph), outside of cities the limits are 80-100kph (50-60mph). You get a lot of 100-120kph (60-75mph) sections on the Autobahn where the otherwise _recommended_ speed is 130kph (80mph) which is when BMWs will be overtaking you at twice that speed on the left lane.

> I remember a Dutch engineer telling me that when they increased the speed limits years ago the average speed sunk and it was hypothesized that it was (IIRC) because as the limits became more reasonable more people decided to just follow them.

I'd assume they meant "rate of speeding violations went down" versus "average speed sunk". The problem with measuring the effect of speed limit changes is that so many things change over the timeframe of the measurement - better vehicle safety, change in traffic rate or overall transportation preference (increase of cyclist in the Netherlands)... studies on this topic are manifold and they all seem to come to rather different conclusions.


The same effect was observed in Poland, when the speed limit on the motorways was increased to the highest in Europe(140km/h, or about 90mph). Vast majority of people on the motorways don't drive at the limit, because most cars are just not comfortable at this speed. If you drive a modern MB or Audi that is designed for cruising at 90mph - sure, that works. But a 1.2L Civic? It's really loud and not stable at all at those speeds. So whenever I drive in Poland, even just doing the limit, not above, I overtake almost everyone in the right lane. Obviously, there are still people going much quicker than the limit(200km/h or 120mph is not uncommon) but in general it got rid of the issue of people sitting right at the limit or slightly above it, at least on the motorways.


As someone driving on the Autobahn daily, the notion that even the majority of drivers drive the speed limits is laughable. Going 5-20 km/h faster is the norm.


Well, I’m not sure. I’m driving it once a week and usually I overtake most cars going 20 km/h above the limit, even those that have passed me before with 200 km/h


According to my German teachers, Germany makes extensive use of electronic speed cameras that can be moved around and left unattended. You don’t get pulled over; you get a ticket in the mail. It would be inefficient to waste officer time on speed traps (Americans do this because speed cameras are politically untenable).


I gathered that in the US, traffic stops are used to also check people if they have any outstanding warrants or fines, so that officers can arrest them if need be.

Which is weird, I mean just show up at their doorstep or seize their income or something, but then, it's the US so idk.




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