Fun, fun, fun on the autobahn

Sam Jeremic
The autobahn is many things: convenient, impressive, scary and fun, often all at once.

Along with bier, bratwurst and unlikeable Formula 1 drivers, it is one of Germany's main cultural identifiers. It is often mentioned in hushed, reverential tones by motoring enthusiasts and looked at with a mix of awe and terror by outsiders. The autobahn.

Yet given Germany's quality public transport system, most Australians who visit won't spend any time on the country's famed speed-limit-free highways, let alone drive on them.

But if you get the chance and you're a driver not easily rattled, it's well worth it as it is an eye-opening experience of just how efficiently roads can operate.

On some drives, you may only encounter bursts of a few kilometres of autobahn driving and sometimes you have to travel slower than you'd like because of roadworks or traffic congestion.

But when you do see an autobahn sign (a speed limit sign with two lines through it), it's certainly an experience.

As you first climb up to a rapid speed it does feel odd, as if you're definitely doing something illegal. Not having a whole lot of experience driving on the right-hand side of the road certainly doesn't help.

And then, things start to become easier. You're still concentrating at a much-heightened level and looking a lot further down the road than you otherwise would.

As everyone is travelling at a similar speed, it is remarkable how quickly 150km/h can feel pedestrian after sitting on 190km/h for a few clicks. You find yourself spending a lot more time checking mirrors, as the speck roughly a kilometre behind you can very quickly turn into a BMW whizzing past you at 250km/h.

Nevertheless, it all works seamlessly and soon enough, a 200km or so trip is wrapped up in well under two hours. The thought of introducing such a system in WA elicits images of bogans recklessly doing bog laps of the Mitchell and Kwinana freeways like they do on Leach Highway but the key here is the strict obedience placed on the rules by German drivers.

In short, they know how to drive.

Even those doing 250km/h will move out of the far left lane where possible. Everyone knows to check their mirrors multiple times before changing lanes to overtake.

And, for someone who has spent most of their driving life in Perth, their ability to merge makes you almost weep with joy.

With our vast lengths of highway, some people may think Australia would be the perfect place for no speed limit sections. It'd certainly make that boring part of Forrest Highway south of Perth a lot more riveting. After a few days, I too was starting to think such a system would be great at home.

But I discovered it's not flawless.

Travelling at such speed will chew through the fuel in most cars and such concentration leaves you fatigued. Accidents do still happen and there is no terror you'll experience while behind the wheel as sharp as that you feel while sitting north of 200km/h and thinking the guy in the next lane in front of you is going to suddenly change lanes. However, in reality, it took an army of people to construct carriageways good enough to handle such driving and the Germans have had the system for decades. More so, it is doubtful many countries would have drivers capable of having such a network at their disposal without it turning into a terrifying free for all.

So no, it probably would not be best for us if no speed limits were somehow made law.

Still, it is nice to fantasise about a world where down south is barely an hour away...