Thursday, July 17, 2008

Something You Don't See Everyday

Is an SL Mercedes AMG series (in other words, one damn fine automobile) being lifted into the air by towing cables. Even weirder, here in Vienna, this car had California plates on it, and was illegally parked outside the Iraqi Embassy of all places. Go figure that one out.
Which brings me back to more funny German words and phrases. One sign (that a certain driver failed to heed) that is found often in German speaking countries contains the phrase "widerrechtlich abgestellte Fahrzeuge werden kostenpflichtig abgeschleppt!" which translates into the rather more humdrum "illegally parked cars will be towed" Somehow I'm more afraid of the German phrase. Indeed, I had my first crack at driving in Vienna over the past few days while picking up and dropping off a rental car that I put over 700 miles on in three days while birding with my friend Jeff in Austria, Hungary, and Slovakia. More on that trip in a post this upcoming weekend (I missed last week, so there are two dispatches this week).
Anyway, driving in Vienna is a nightmare. There's a red light every hundred yards, lots of small, narrow, one way streets that were decidedly never meant to be used by cars, heavy traffic, and gas prices of $8 a gallon or more. In other words, take the train. That having been said, though, most Europeans are very good drivers. Highway death rates are considerably lower in most of Western Europe than in the USA, and yet people drive much faster (in Germany of course there's often no speed limit on highways and in most other countries its 130km or 80mph.)
Part of this has to do with the fact that getting a license requires more training, part of this is due to most people driving stick since driving automatic requires less attention, and part is due to stricter drunk driving laws. In any event, it proves my argument (which strangely has never been a hit with the cops in the US) that speed and safety on highways are poorly correlated. Let people drive 80 miles an hour in the USA. Or try it yourself. You will quickly realize that you are forced to pay more attention than at 65. Anyways, I'm glad to be back to taking the subway most everywhere I need, so enough on driving for now.

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