German Cars Make People Speed

January 11, 2011 By: erik Category: England, Musings, Spain, USA 421 views

Rate this post:
1 Star2 Stars3 Stars4 Stars5 Stars (No Ratings Yet)

Autumn BenzIn the countries I’ve lived and driven in, I’ve noticed some differences between how people drive on the motorway (that’s like the “interstate” for you yanks). In England, people tend to drive with an unparalleled politeness. They will happily move over to let you pass, make room for you to merge in, or brake so you can change lanes ahead of them. Spaniards, on the other hand, are just as selfish as the Brits are selfless. In Spain, everyone assumes that you will also behave selfishly, so when you try to be polite to other drivers, they get confused or don’t trust that you’re really letting them merge. The Americans are somewhere in between.

One difference I’ve noticed between driving on the motorway in Spain and the US is the speed at which the drivers in the fast lane pass me. It’s quite common in Spain for a car to pass by going more than 15 kph faster, whereas that isn’t very common at all in the US. I think this is partly due to the ubiquitousness of cruise control in American cars. Cruise control, like automatic transmission, is a fairly high end option on cars in Spain still, whereas they are the defaults in the States. When you’re driving on the motorway without cruise control, it’s very easy to let your mind wander and end up either 20 kph above or below the speed limit.

From my casual observations, which are probably riddled with confirmation bias, the cars that whiz past me in the fast lane are almost always, say nine times out of ten, either an Audi, a Mercedes, or a BMW. My theory on why this might be so goes something like this…

Car manufactured in Germany are designed with the speed limitless autobahn in mind and are thus more comfortable to drive at very high speeds than cars manufactured outside of Germany.

Not only is it that the ride is smoother at high speeds, but that the speedometer is designed to go higher. I recall my grandmother reporting some years back that after changing cars, she noticed that she drove faster on the motorway. Eventually she figured out that she had become used to keeping the speedometer needle exactly vertical, which was 100 kph in the old car and 120 kph in the new one. I think there’s definitely something to that.

  • If someone is driving like an asshole, flashing his lights at me to let him speed past, cutting me up or generally being an impatient and inconsiderate driver, the car they are driving is *invariably* an Audi.

    • erik

      They also have those goddamn “I can afford lights to help me see better and I don’t care if it blinds you” halogen headlights, too.

    • Oh, wait…

  • Smee

    I suspect that you’re all completely correct. German cars make you speed, not just the ‘luxury’ ones, either, and on average, Audi drivers are going to be the most noticeably obnoxious. Audi probably is currently the manufacturer with the broadest range of models, and most continuous spectrum, from compact city cars all the way up to supercars, so no matter what type of car you’re driving, there’s probably an Audi driver that feels he has to justify paying more for essentially the same thing, by making sure you noticed him wasting gas. Now that I am officially an Audi owner, I can say that owning one, even if you paid less than three thousand for it, just opens you up to the temptation to let your inner jerk shine through. I feel that I’m pretty good at fighting it off, but german car syndrome is probably more easily observed by a third party, as self-diagnosis is so easily biased by sitting too close to a torsen center differential, and the jerk-itron radiation it emits.

    However, there was nothing quite as fun as driving a VW Golf Vr6, even one from ’95. I thought that an Audi A8, even one from ’97, would put it to shame, but there’s just something about a small car with “too much” (just the right amount of) engine.

    The way I have driven them both so far has shown that they both get 11 liters per 100 km, (21 mpg) they both legally sit five people, they both do zero to 100 kph in a little under ten seconds, and they both tempt me to go as fast as I can get away with.

    I only, very, very rarely give in to that temptation, so for 99% of my driving, the pleasure of being behind the wheel has to come from the legal stuff, like turns, roundabouts, scenic drives, but all within the speed limits. Because of this, the one thing that the A8 can do so easily and quietly, and yet do so spectacularly better than the Golf: top speed on straights, becomes a moot point of comparison. Although, I suspect that if I were someone who owned a new one, the fear of speeding tickets would become significantly less important than it is to me now, and I’d get much worse gas mileage.

    I’m glad to report that back in the nineties, neither Audi nor VW put in those glaring, bluish HID headlights, but the turn signal lever in the Audi is also the high-beam/flasher lever, and it is way too easy to flash people, when your original intention had simply been to just adjust the turn signal. I like the new Audi LED daytime running lights, but they need to be able to be turned off, if the driver prefers not to have them on, and it wouldn’t hurt if the ITV inspectors would require HID headlights to be aimed a little lower than the old halogens, as they are actually painful to look at at night, despite the fact that they really do make it easier to see what’s in front of them, for those fortunate enough to own them, and therefore not being blinded by them.

    It seems like sweet synchronicity to read this right now, as just tonight was nearly in an accident myself. I had just entered the freeway from the onramp, and I was still in the slow lane, as a small Fiat Punto, that had been traveling in the opposite direction as me, in its own fast lane, must have lost control in the curve, somehow managed to go over a really low section of the guardrail separating the opposing directions of traffic on the freeway, miraculously avoided colliding with oncoming traffic, and fell off the edge of the steep shoulder, and bounced back up onto the shoulder, practically upside-down… all less than a quarter mile in front of me. It came to rest without even blocking any lanes of traffic.

    Also miraculously, before I could even find a safe place to pull over, two motorcycle cops, who must have been right behind me, already had their lights and sirens going, so I just kept going, as I had no idea what or how the car managed to end up on the wrong side of traffic, and it was essentially just a single-car-accident.

    When I came back the other direction, less than ten minutes later, there was still only the two cops, and one lady in a yellow safety vest, standing behind the overturned wreck. I assume this was the driver, and I assume it was a lady, or a man with quite long hair.

    I actually do drive slower and saner after seeing things like this, at least for a few months or so. I wonder if this is a common reaction for most drivers? I still can’t figure out exactly how she managed to cut across three, well occupied lanes of oncoming traffic without anyone having to even swerve to miss her. I guess that part was good fortune for her, as you can’t really generalize by saying that “I guess she’s just lucky.”

    • Smee

      Sorry, it didn’t look like so much while I was writing it in that box. Delete or edit as you see fit. I guess there was still some residual adrenaline in me, or whatever it is that shocks you into just rambling on.

  • Lee

    I don’t drive, so I can only comment as a pedestrian/spectator. But as someone who spends a lot of time on public transport in Madrid, I can assure you that the jerkoffs who block bus lanes are invariably those who drive the pricier cars.

    • Smee

      “Oh yeah?! – Why don’t YOU try to park a full-sized sedan in Madrid? The only places left ARE in the bus lane!”


      • Lee

        Watch the caps, sonny.

  • Just another pedestrian here, so I can’t really say from any personal driving experience, but your observations seem about right. Funny what you said about people getting confused if you are polite to them, that happens to my husband….he usually tries to let people in, for example when there is a line of cars from a parking lot trying to merge into traffic. He says the thing to do is “la cremallera” (the zipper), in other words taking turns. But some people just seem confused when he does this and they just sit there, probably because they’re not expecting it, since most people usually get as close to the car in front as possible to prevent anyone from sneaking in.