Roy Exum: An Autobahn In Tennessee

Wednesday, April 17, 2013 - by Roy Exum
Roy Exum
Roy Exum

For the longest time I have been harboring a great idea which would make the most boring drive in America into Tennessee’s biggest tourist attraction. I guarantee this will work and it will be the most fun anybody who buys a modern car could ever dream –  let’s turn Interstate Highway 40, which starts its 455-mile track just east of Gatlinburg and winds it’s lonely way to the Mississippi River into an Autobahn!

That’s right, we rip away every speed limit sign and let people from all across the country bring their fast cars to go over 150 miles an hour if they can. At first it sounds loony but, in reality, it makes great sense if we’ll just follow Germany’s formula. Our Interstate system, whether you are driving from Chattanooga to Knoxville, Birmingham, Nashville or especially Atlanta is ridiculous.

I am a 78-mile-per-hour driver. Face it, everybody goes over the speed limit and any highway patrolman will overlook 7-to-8 miles an hour rather than endure the hassle of the paperwork. Even the troopers pay little attention to the limits unless they can bag a “super speeder.” Add the fact that today’s modern cars have never been as safe, or as equipped to speed, and this is a no-brainer.

The trick to the whole thing, as the Germans have realized, is to give harsh tickets to the dummies on the road versus those who know what they are doing and comply with the laws. Between 1990 and 2010 the German authorities reduced fatalities on the Autobahn – get this – by 70 percent! And that stunning figure includes 12,800 miles of well-kept roads.

We ought to study that, embrace it, and tell everybody with a Ferrari or Corvette to vacation in Tennessee because they can finally enjoy the horsepower they just bought. But, again, the trick is to catch those who don’t play by a far better set of highway rules that we do. Laugh all you want at such an idea but consider these, courtesy of Wikipedia:

-- The right lane should be used when it is free and the left lane is generally intended only for overtaking, unless traffic is too dense to justify driving only on the right lane; drivers using far left lane for prolonged periods of time when all other lanes are free could be fined.

-- Overtaking on the right (undertaking) is strictly forbidden, except when stuck in traffic jams.

-- In a traffic jam, drivers must form an emergency lane to allow emergency services to reach an accident scene. This "lane" is the middle of the left two lanes.

-- It is unlawful to stop for any reason on the autobahn, except for emergencies and when unavoidable, like traffic jams or being involved in an accident. This includes stopping on emergency lanes. Drivers may face fines and a driving license removal for up to 6 months should it come to a stop that was deemed unnecessary by the police. In some cases it may also be considered a crime and the driver could receive a prison sentence (up to 5 years).

-- There is a general “duty to rescue” in Germany. If there is an accident, a driver is obliged to stop and help, whenever and to the degree to which it is possible. Doctors, even if they are not Germans or living in Germany, are obliged to stop and help, unless an ambulance is already on the scene. (First aid training is mandatory in order to obtain a driving license in Germany.)

-- Fines for “tailgating” were increased in May 2006. At speeds over 62 mph, keeping less than 30 percent of the recommended safety distance (which should be over 100 yards and longer at higher speeds) now results in a suspension of the offender's driving license for up to three months.

-- Due to legal regulations, it is legal to flash headlights in order to indicate the intention of overtaking, but a proper distance to the vehicle in front must be maintained. Driving at insufficient distances and constantly or repeatedly flashing headlights are also considered to be coercion and the driver can get fined.

-- The tires must be approved for the vehicle's top speed; winter tires (mud + snow) for lower speeds (i.e. cheaper than high-speed tires) are allowed, but the driver must have a sticker in the vehicle reminding of the maximum speed the vehicle is permitted.

-- During the winter months winter tires are compulsory. M+S tires (mud and snow or all-season) are acceptable. Non-compliance would lead to legal consequences in the event of an accident and will result in problems with insurance coverage.

* * *

Are you getting this? There are “hard” speed limits for certain vehicles – and they must stay in the far right lane. There is an “advisory speed limit” that is recognized by every German – plan on going at least 80 miles an hour and strictly adhere to the rules. They are strikingly simple: stay in the right lane, pass in the left, and get back into the right.

In the event of heavy rain or snow, there are overhead signs that enforce a slower speed limit until the weather conditions improve. There are other make-sense provisions as well but here’s the catch – Tennessee needs to be the first in the country to capture the tourist trade and capitalize on what is today the most boring highway in all of America.

Just imagine, screaming across the Tennessee River between Benton and Humphreys County at 120 miles an hour. It would be such a hoot. I’m told the new Volkswagen Passat, made in Chattanooga, even has a little pedal to spare, this on top of being just one of many athletes now perfectly equipped to deliver a man’s “need for speed.”

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