A growing number of elderly drivers add risks to themselves and others as they race along the high-speed German Autobahn. Age diminishes all of our skills, but the driving dangers multiply at 180 km/h, or 80 mph. Given 20% of the voting Deutsch populations is 65 or older, do not expect many changes in laws regarding elderly drivers as they navigate the German Autobahn.
German Autobahn – Thrill and Dangers of Speed
Covering 12,200 /7,600 miles of Deutschland, the German Budesautobahn is one of the world’s fastest highways. In a country buried under laws and regulations, this multi-lane highway with banked turns serves as a carefree Grand Prix. The European Transport Safety Council estimates there are no limits on 52% of the German Autobahn. Temporary limits for weather or construction impact 15% of the system. Permanent posted speed limits slow down one third of Mercedes and Beamers. An increasing number of 100 to 120 km/h speed limits in metropolitan areas or exchange mergers are policed by high-speed cameras. Pushing the pedal to the metal is so prominent; laws require German cars to include a ‘chip’ that limits maximum speed to 250 km/h, or 155 mph.
Speed kills. According to the European Transport Safety Council, 70% of German roadway deaths are within the unlimited speed zones.
First-time German Autobahn drivers hug the right lane as missiles-on-wheels shriek by. None of the lanes are safe as a Mercedes zooms into the rear mirror, screeching its brakes and blasting its horn as it nearly nibbles your bumper. Thank heavens its driver possessed the vision and reflexes to avoid plowing into the American tortoise. Too many German elderly drivers face diminished steering and handling capabilities.
German Autobahn – Elderly Driver Reactions & Decisions
Elderly Drivers suffer a higher mortality rate on the German Autobahn and other highways. The following data by DESTATIS, the German Federal Statics Agency, shows 65 years and older experience a 20% higher highway death rate than their respective share of the population.
Germans are no more super human than any of us. As we age, our vision diminishes. Arthritis reduces reactions. Certain medications impact focus. Nerves weaken decision-making. In many countries elderly drivers move too slowly in high speed lanes, fail to stop in an assured clearing distance, or become confused between highway exits and entrance ramps. On the German Autobahn at 120 to 180 km/h, these mistakes tend to be fatal.
The following chart demonstrates stopping distances. At 120 km/h stopping distances stretch to almost 108 meters or over 354 feet – greater than the length of an American football field. In order to stop at that speed a driver must be alert, skilled, and strong enough to keep the car under control. Each second of delayed reaction time at that speed adds 33 meters, or 108 feet, to the stopping distance.
Spiegel reported in Unrestricted Seniors Endanger German Roadways, “seniors were involved in accidents at an above-average rate . . . and bore a brunt of the blame in 70% of them.” Of the 353,000 driver-related causes of accidents involving personal injury, reported by DESTATIS for 2010, 46% included insufficient stopping distance, overtaking mistakes and errors entering or exiting a roadway.
German Autobahn – Grey Political Power
In a country that suffocates its citizens with laws and regulations; high-speed driving is a rare and coveted privilege. The German Autobahn is a magnet for young and elderly drivers to its swift surfaces.
20% of the Deutche population is 65 or over. The German Automobile Club estimates 1.7 million elderly drivers between 75 and 84. According to the CIA Factbook, grey voters are the fastest growing segment.
The German political system is an ensemble of multiple parties. The following figure depicts the dispersion of party seats within the German Bundestagswal, or congress.
2009 Bundestagswal Seats by Political Party
Christian Democrats seek coalitions with Social Democrats or other parties to achieve a slim majority. No one wishes to upset nearly 11 million senior voters or their families by weakening or eliminating their driving freedom. The German government agreed to non-binding ‘voluntary health check-ups’ for elderly drivers. According to Spiegel, 44% of the volunteers do not pass the vision test.
German Autobahn – Elderly Driver Future
The Deutsche population peaked and is projected to shrink. Citizens are living longer. Each year a growing share of German Autobahn lanes belong to elderly drivers. Despite serious risks and growing casualties, the government is unlikely to take action.
I understand both sides of the issue. My 80-plus year old mother recently relinquished her driving privileges. The loss of freedom and increased dependency on others is painful. Twenty-four years ago a 78 year old driver mistook a gas pedal for her brakes, killing my best friend.
Reducing unnecessary highway deaths and injuries is in the hands of senior drivers and their families. Pflichtbewuβtsein is a cornerstone in the German culture. It depicts an individual’s sense of duty or obligation. While Germans are individualists, their allegiance to social responsibilities and the greater good is stronger. Elderly drivers need to apply Pflichtbewuβtsein to their duty to improve safety for other drivers. By volunteering for driving health check-ups, they better understand strengths and weaknesses. Perhaps improved eyewear or maintaining greater distances from drivers ahead may extend their time behind the wheel. Possibly it is time to park the car. Germany is blessed with many transportation options including trains and trams. Drivers, who raced the German roadways for fifty or more years, have a duty to provide safety for younger citizens to follow their path.
High-speed driving is sewn into Deutche soul. At 180 km/h drivers need optimal capabilities. Elderly drivers, and those in their pathway, must remember – there are few fender-benders on the German Autobahn.