Guest column/Rigorous training would make driving safer

The Ohio folks responsible for safety and speed on our interstates are barking up the wrong tree. It’s politics — I understand. I guess “it shows we’re doing something.” Let me explain — I personally drive regularly at average speeds of 120 mph, sometimes even higher, on a dry sunny day, on public highways. In fact, I did precisely a month ago. Of course I’m talking about the German Interstate Highway System, which has no speed limits on about 60 percent of the system.

Why then does Germany only have an amazing fraction of 40 percent of the fatalities of the U.S., where we do have speed limits everywhere? Your chances of getting killed on a U.S. interstate with speed limits is 2¢ times that of getting killed in Germany with no speed limits. What’s the secret? There are three compelling reasons:

First, a driver’s license in Germany costs $3,000 and takes a minimum of nine months, because it includes very rigorous training requirements in licensed driving schools, understanding of how a vehicle works and demanding testing — about 80 percent of all applicants fail the first round. It’s as rigorous as getting a pilot’s license in the U.S. Parallel parking and changing a tire are part of the test for everyone. Our training and licensing system is a joke by comparison. There is no “Uncle Bob” teaching a teenager to drive. It’s a highly professional system. When my mother took her driver’s test in her late 50s, the examiner told her to stop here and change right rear tire — she got out and did it.

Second, building on the first point, the rules of the road are enforced rigorously. Passing is only permitted on the left — when you are done passing you must move to the right. If you pass on the right, like we do every day in Ohio, you lose your license for a year. The concrete road bed is also three times as thick as on our interstates — thus, no surface irregularities.

Third, there is no DUI. A DUI is a social anathema. People simply do not drink and drive — it is socially unacceptable and “verpont.” If you have an accident, worse with injuries or death and alcohol in you, the penalties are draconian, starting with the confiscation and immediate impoundment of your car, loss of license for life, jail time etc. etc. Furthermore, just holding a phone is an 80 Euro ticket.

Furthermore, like the U.S. Germany has a point system. Where there are speed limits on country roads, towns and villages, the enforcement is absolute. As an extreme example, if you go 70 kmh over any speed limit (42 mph) you irrevocably lose your license for life. The Germans still hate us for introducing the point system to them.

The solution is logical for Ohio and the United States — design driver’s training that not only teaches how to drive, but how to react to various circumstances — along these lines prohibit all phone calls except hands-free; implement a pass on the left and slower traffic move-over policy, irrespective of the speed limits — including the prohibition of passing on the right — this might include a reading test because I have signs that state “Slow Traffic, Keep Right” which nobody seems to be aware of; and implement severe DUI consequences instead of the current slaps on the wrist after the third DUI.

I believe that you will see a dramatic decline in traffic deaths, less frustration and safer and smoother moving traffic benefitting us all. I think it’s OK to raise the speed limit accordingly. How about the head of the Ohio State Highway Patrol do a little fact finding trip to Germany? They might learn something.

In fact, I have founded the now renowned 150 mph Club (on the Autobahn.) It’s safer to drive at that speed in Germany than 70 mph on Interstate 70. You haven’t lived until you have driven a Porsche 911 and you are passing a German Highway Patrol officer, sucking off his hub caps as you pass and he just smiles and gives you a thumbs up. It’s called freedom.

(Sontag, a resident of Steubenville, is founder and chief executive officer of Fast Lane Travel Inc.)