The paradox of freedom: Germans have more freedom driving because the government insists on more training

(written by lawrence krubner, however indented passages are often quotes). You can contact lawrence at:, or follow me on Twitter.

I was in Germany this summer. My friend and I went to visit her parents. Her parents wanted me to see a historic town nearby. We got in the car. The father drove down the road at 190 kilometers per hour. The other cars were also going fast.

I saw cars at an intersection make turns, in front of other cars, that I would never do in the USA, because I would never trust the other drivers to behave correctly. But in Germany the drivers are very well trained — everyone knew the rules, they knew when they were allowed to turn, so each car could move quickly. In the USA I am forced to drive defensively because I’ve often seen erratic behavior in my fellow drivers.

My friend got her driver’s license in Germany when she was an adult. It was very expensive and she had to go through several courses. She had to prove that she could drive at night and during the day, and in a dense urban center, and also out on the highways, away from any cities. She was given multiple tests. It was a serious training effort.

This is the paradox of the American emphasis on freedom. The attitude tends to be juvenile. The American mindset, at its crudest, is something like, “You got to give me a driver’s license, man, because I’m free, man, I’ve got freedom, so I’m gonna drive, you can’t stop me, you got no right, I’m free, man, give me a the right to drive, authority sucks, the government sucks, rules suck, regulations suck, everything sucks, I’m free so I can drive, you can’t stop me, man.” So the drivers are untrained, so the government responds by treating all drivers as if they are badly behaving children.

In Germany the attitude is “We (the government) will train you very well, and then we will trust you to be adults who can make wise choices.”

One thing I never saw in Germany: cops hiding behind trees, hoping to catch people who were speeding. Traffic cops are very common in the USA, but basically unknown in Germany, since the major highways don’t have speed limits. (But I’m told that in the cities there are many automated speed radars, and Germans often talk with each other about how to avoid these speed traps.)

It also seemed that people in Germany were more likely to obey speed limits than in the USA, perhaps because speed limits are more rare in Germany. Late at night we drove through some very small rural towns, and in the heart of the town the speed limit was very low, like 30 kmh, but the cars I saw seemed to stick to that. Also perhaps the drivers were trying to be respectful because the people of the village were asleep? In contrast, where my mom lives, in the suburbs of the USA, some people feel the need to drive through her neighborhood at 3 AM with cars or motorcycles where the the muffler has been removed, so the vehicle sounds like a machine gun.