I HAVE A dirty little confession to make: Iíve never really liked driving on German Autobahns. I know, I know, that makes me some kind of crumble-crutch when we all know Ė hand on hearts Ė that the Autobahn is one of the last places on earth that isnít a dry salt lake where you can go absolutely balls-to-the-wall and not wind up in gaol... necessarily.
True, but itís always occurred to me that you might end up toe-tagged. While itís a fact that shunts are relatively rare on Autobahns, when they do happen, they only really come in one size. Iíve seen horrendous footage of high-end German cars pinballing down the íbahn 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 weíre 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 didnít 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 youíve 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 youíre going to say: arenít German drivers attentive and skilled, and donít they have the right attitude to staying out of each otherís grilles? Well, they did. Once upon a time. But Iíve 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 lanediscipline 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, youíve 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 isnít watching his mirrors anyway. Autobahn travel is now, as my colleague observed, like driving in Queensland.
The rednecks out there will doubtless claim that itís immigration thatís the problem, and that gypsies and asylum seekers shouldnít be allowed on Autobahns. But I donít think thatís the case. The cars I saw making nuisances of themselves were all German registered and didnít appear to be horse-drawn. Instead, I reckon itís 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, thatís all they were really good for in the first place.
And what happens when people canít use something like a 911 Turbo for what it was designed? Theyíll stop making cars like that, thatís what. And Iíll blame 21st-century-Autobahn bad manners when that happens. Trust me, I didnít like Autobahns before and now I like them even less. M