The traffic fatality rate in Austria is 13.4 per 100,000 (1999 figure), lower than in Portugal (21) and Greece (20.2), similar to Spain (14.6), France (14.4), Belgium (13.7) and Luxembourg (13.5), but significantly higher than the rates in Ireland (11), Italy (11), Denmark (9.7), Germany (9.5), Finland (8.4), Netherlands (6.9), Sweden (6.6) and Great Britain (5.9).
I haven’t driven much in the rest of Europe, so I can’t draw any conclusions about how they drive in other countries, relative to Austria. I’ve driven a little in Greece, but only on small tourist islands; I would describe the roads there as quite scary. I suspect if one were able to factor in road quality, the Austrian death rate would look worse.
Consider the fatality rate for Germany: 9.5, significantly lower than the rate for Austria, although I suspect road quality is similar, as are many cultural factors, including aggressive driving habits. So why is the Austrian rate higher than the German one?
It may have to do with the weather or lunar phases – sometimes people seem to drive fine here, at other times, such as yesterday, they all seem to go nuts at once. It’s not a fair generalization, nor maybe even accurate, but yesterday I was thinking they drive like Germans, only without the discipline.
Example: They like traffic circles out where I live. Now, bear in mind that most Austrian drivers have attended mandatory driver’s education training, which is expensive and lasts weeks and weeks. They learn all the laws, including right of way, including on traffic circles. Still, people occasionally act as if they’ve never seen one before. I pass through three of them on my way home from work. A guy zoomed in front of me on the first one, forcing me to slam on my brakes. I thought, gosh, that makes me mad. At the second one, a woman did the same thing, only worse. I honked, she waved, I employed sign language. It didn’t help my mood. I thought, if this happens again, maybe I should shout something in English. A long time ago, some therapist recommended I do that to let off steam, if you can believe it.
Later that same day, driving my oldest daughter somewhere… music school it was, a young woman does it again. I’m on the traffic circle (i.e. have right-of-way) she zooms in front of me, and slams on her brakes because traffic has stopped in front of her. Since I want to exit, but she is directly blocking my way, I am also forced to slam on my brakes, and come to a stop so close to her she couldn’t open her door if she wanted to.
So I hollered. I’d forgotten that I could holler so loud. In the middle of my outburst, although I was doing the red-face-eyes-bulging-why-don’t-you-learn-to-drive-aspersions-on-your-character thing, I at the same time was co-existing in this bubble of calm and clearly noticed that time had stopped. Traffic was jammed, everyone had turned their attention to me. They could hear me through rolled-up windows over their air conditioning. Heads were turned in all cars, worse, diners at the nearby McDonalds set down their plastic forks, salad speared on the tines and watched. People filling their tanks at two nearby service stations briefly stopped to watch.
“Dad, can’t you just yell like other people?” my daughter asked.
Time started, cars moved on, I proceeded. In Austria, they can press charges if you yell insulting things at someone. I wondered if anyone had gotten my license plate number. I could always argue that they had misunderstood my English. Alternate, similar-sounding phrases rolled through my head.
I was not proud of myself. Especially in front of my kid, losing it like that. “She was the third one to do that to me this afternoon,” I said.
“She can’t help that.”
“Whatever. Still, she’s lucky. The fourth one gets dragged out of their car and beaten.” Yeah right. The fourth one will be a weightlifter or karate instructor, I think.
“How ’bout you just take their license number and report them?”
“Good idea,” I acceded. Still. Some days. It hurts to realize you’re a moron. But still.