European Navigator

By J. R. Castaneda

I am an old NMA member (don't remember how old!) who happens to be "exiled" in Europe for just a couple of years (I hope!) and would like to share with you my driving experiences in the old continent.

As far as fast freeway driving is concerned, I would place Italy as number one, followed by France, Switzerland, Belgium, Germany, and the Netherlands.

In Italy, like in France to a lesser extent, most drivers use the left lane exclusively for passing. This is not the rule in the last three mentioned countries where you constantly find someone cruising in the left lane at speeds slightly higher than right lane traffic (which sometimes goes as slow as 50 MPH!).

You can forget about the myth of no speed limits in Germany. Freeways are often too congested for fast driving. Unless you happen to be driving one of the prestigious German makes you will find a very tough time getting drivers in the left lane to move to the right. You cannot imagine how frustrating it is to drive an unknown Japanese car that allows me to cruise at 115-120 mph and see how other "left lane" drivers allow the slower German car in front of me to pass them to immediately return and block the left lane. It gets so bad that I try to avoid German "autobahns" whenever possible. At times the above mentioned game takes place with trucks!!!

In the Netherlands, the country second to the U.S. regarding safe driving conditions (fatality rates?), it is as frustrating to drive as it is in the 55 mph sections of American freeways. You constantly have to "fight" left lane "bandits" driving at the posted speed limits (75 mph).

Another typical summer European problem is motor homes, trailers, and the like, passing each other, and/or being passed by trucks, 16 wheelers, buses, etc., driving 1 or 2 mph faster and blocking the left lane for miles and miles and miles...

In summary, if you want to enjoy fast freeway driving while in Europe, you have to do several things:

  1. Drive one of the status makes, i.e. Mercedes, BMW, Porsche, Alfa Romeo, etc. Otherwise, even if you are driving one of the rocket econoboxes (Golf VR6 and the like) you are going to have a very tough time convincing "left lane bandits" to move over.
  2. Generally tool expressways are less congested (most French and Italian expressways are toll roads) and drivers are more "accommodating" to faster drivers.
  3. If you want to enjoy the unlimited possibilities of German "autobahns" make sure you pick one of those sections in the middle of nowhere and not connecting any of the main population centers (there are still some) to really test the speed of your vehicle.
As far as speed enforcement is concerned, I can only share with you my experience:

Source: November/December 1993 NMA News

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