Sinclair says the good safety records on German roads are particularly surprising
because Germans drive so fast. Speeds over 140 mph are common on the
nations autobahns, he said.
There are strict speed limits in the [neighboring]
Netherlands. As soon as you hit Germany, if your window is open, you can hear engines
begin to scream as they accelerate to German cruising speeds, he says.
German tires have nylon caps that make them stiffer, better for
handling at high speeds and less likely to lose treads. The Firestone tires blamed for
tread-separation-related deaths, like most U.S. tires, dont have the nylon caps.
Firestone officials have said Americans prefer a softer ride and the caps arent
needed at American driving speeds.
The biggest difference between the two countries isnt in
tires, but driving habits, says Alex Landsdorff, press attachï¿½ at the German Embassy in
Washington. German drivers actually obey the rules, he says. They dont cruise in the
left lane, they keep both hands on the wheel and act predictably.
You know what the guy behind yous up to and you know
what the guy ahead of yous up to. Thats never the case [in the U.S.], he
At German speeds, drivers are less likely to become distracted
they dont shave, put on makeup, play with the CD changer or do the various
things that lead to American drivers taking their eyes off the road, says David Champion,
head of Consumer Unions auto testing center in East Haddam, Conn.
Its very difficult to find cupholders and the like
in European cars, he said. But American drivers, accustomed to doing other things while
driving, continue their dangerous habits even at high speeds, he says.
Safe Driving, Strict
Germany has stricter requirements than the United States for licenses. The Germans
written test is tougher than Americans, the minimum driving age is 18, and German
drivers have to take classes in city traffic, on country roads, on autobahns and at night
before being let loose on the roads.
Each U.S. state has its own requirements. The average age for a
license is 16; fourteen states offer restricted licenses to 14-year-olds, and you have to
be 18 to even sit in a drivers seat in New York City. Most states require driver
education courses for young drivers. But the quality of road and written tests varies
widely. Road tests in suburban Virginia, for instance, may not involve highway driving or
New drivers in Germany are put on probation similar to the
graduated-license system used in 40 U.S. states where for the first two years, any
traffic infraction sends them back to driving school.
In Japan, drivers can skip their road test if they take a $2,500
driving course. Local authorities very strictly police written and road tests, people whove
driven in Japan say. Most Japanese cities have excellent public transit systems for
But people in Iceland, a country without particularly good public
transportation, still need to take 30 hours of courses before their road test, says
Fridrik Jonsson, secretary at the Icelandic Embassy in Washington. And driving in snow and
ice are part of the de facto training in a country where black ice
makes winter roads treacherous.
People [in D.C.] have no clue how to drive in snow or ice,
Slow and Safe
Britain is another safe-driving country with a strict driving exam only about half
the people taking driving tests pass. There, driving slowly and safely isnt by
choice. British roads are congested, with the average speed in London hovering around 11
mph, according to Andrew Howard, head of road safety for the nations Automobile
Unlike in the United States, few British cities have freeways
going through the center, meaning most driving is done on country roads or busy streets
Our plummet in road deaths in recent years has been
particularly in urban areas. You now cant get up the speed to have them,
The renowned British stiff upper lip may also play a role. Though
that country coined the term road rage, expatriate American Janice Murphy says
shes noticed British drivers are much less aggressive there than in her home state
of New Jersey.
You still have very much more courtesy and abiding by the
rules in England. Someone will go zipping by at 100 [mph] , but theyll do it in the
appropriate lane, says Murphy, who has been living in London for 11 years.
Be Glad Youre
Europeans may criticize, but American drivers are very safe compared to those in Turkey,
South Korea and Russia.
Turkey has the dubious honor of being the subject of the State
Departments only driver safety briefing, a catalog of driving horrors
that warns about pedestrians seemingly completely oblivious to oncoming traffic
vehicles backing up (in reverse) on exit ramps and on main highways
oncoming drivers who play inscrutable light games, flashing and flashing whether you have
your brights [high beams] on or not.
In Russia, there are, of course, standards and rules to be
followed, but nobody follows them, says Sergius Morenc, ABCNEWS correspondent in
Moscow. Drivers bribe police to let non-roadworthy vehicles on the roads, drunken driving
and lane-straddling abound, and insurance isnt required.
If somebody breaks down, say, in the fast lane, he will
take his spare wheel out or start working on the engine where he stopped, Morenc
Russia isnt on the German road-safety list, and bad drivers
dont always make for the most dangerous roads. The worst score on the list goes to
South Korea, where congested roads in poor repair not driving habits lead to
accidents, spokesmen for the South Korean Embassy in Washington says.