Why is driving fun for some people
"When driving a car, the mind stops"
SZ-Magazin: Now the holidays are starting, people want to get to their holiday destination as quickly as possible and are pressing the accelerator. And then there are spoilers like you who say: If you drive ten kilometers an hour faster, you won't get there any faster. How is that compatible with the laws of physics?
Jörg-Michael Sohn: Humans are not built for driving. That's why he's wrong where he's racing. If you drive ten percent faster on average, you are using twenty to thirty percent more fuel. At a higher speed you will have more fuel stops over longer distances, where you will lose the time that you previously gained by driving fast.
But why are the others always faster than me? If I overtake a truck and drive fifty kilometers further into the parking lot, I haven't even locked the car because it drives past me again. You think it must have flown!
The explanation is simple: the human brain is evolutionarily programmed for pedestrian pace. If someone is one kilometer ahead of you, at four kilometers an hour that's a 15-minute lead. A driver driving a hundred and twenty kilometers per hour needs thirty seconds to travel one kilometer. You actually drive a few kilometers ahead by car, but it feels like half an hour ahead. In reality it's just two minutes. You need it to get off the freeway, find a parking space, lock the car, and then the truck will catch up with you again.
You work with people who have lost their driver's license and have to go to a medical-psychological examination, MPU for short. Is this test rightly called the "idiot test"?
This is a very bad term from the Nazi era, when it was used to sort out "life unworthy of life" in euthanasia. When I started thirty years ago, there was no more talk about MPU than about STDs. There was no culture of discussion and no publicly available information, so the myths raged. Today there are books, the Internet, reputable and dubious advisors who offer help in preparing for the test. I always say: I'm not doing MPU preparation. It's not about passing an exam, it's about changing your behavior.
What kind of people are they who come to your practice?
Most of my clients say: I want my driver's license back - as if the license were theirs. They believe that the driver's license is like a school leaving certificate that they get for life. I reply to these people: Driving is prohibited in Germany, so you need a driver's license. This permit is granted under two conditions: You must be qualified, i.e. pass the driving test, and you must be suitable, i.e. have the necessary character requirements. If someone violates traffic rules or becomes a criminal offender in connection with driving a vehicle, there are doubts about suitability - in other words, the question of whether he can properly use his skills.
Many license holders forget that these skills are required even when they are not behind the wheel.
That's right, even as a cyclist you can lose your driver's license if you are heavily drunk and hang over the handlebars - not under criminal law, but because a traffic problem raises doubts about your fitness to drive. I can do this as a pedestrian. I once had a client who had to go to the MPU because he lay down in the middle of the Kurfürstendamm in Berlin, drunk. This was considered to be a disruption to public road traffic under the influence of alcohol. You can lose your driver's license even if you sit soberly at your desk but commit some kind of offense in connection with your status as a motor vehicle owner. Entrepreneurs who have evaded vehicle tax also come to me. Once I even had an exhibitionist who showed himself naked in public from his car. He also had to go to the MPU, but I passed it on to a sex therapist.
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Do your clients understand when they lose their rag?
There is always a sense of guilt among alcohol offenders. No alcohol driver has the feeling that he can justify his act. Scorers who lose their driver's license because of turf usually have three lines of defense: 1) It wasn't me. 2) Everyone else does the same. 3) It wasn't dangerous after all. There is a consistently wrong concept of risk in driving a car. People always say: It wasn't dangerous, nothing happened. But danger is not only given when something happens, but when something can happen. The risk of one's own behavior is often not seen because most critical behaviors remain without consequences. I can drive drunk a hundred times before an accident happens. I can drive a thousand times too fast until it crashes. People feel invulnerable in the car.
Where does it come from?
When driving a car you are cut off from the sensual experience of driving, you don't feel any airstream and the noises are muffled while you sit in your own civilization bubble. That is why, as drivers, we tend not to see people around us, but rather the red sports car or the black station wagon in front of us. We pretend we are dealing with vehicles and objects in traffic, not people. But traffic is the movement of people, that is a communication process in which we have to negotiate a great deal about communication. The possibilities for this in the car are limited, however, and misunderstandings arise that would not pose a problem at all in normal human interaction. If you stand in line with the shopping cart in the supermarket and someone picks you up, they'll apologize immediately. This does not work when driving a car, and we as drivers do not react to the behavior of other drivers, but to the suspected motives.
It gets even more complicated when you drive abroad as a German. Do we speak different languages while driving on the road?
Yes, in Germany and France, for example, there are historically different driving cultures. In Germany, red means: stop! In France, red means: I have to drive over more carefully than with green. The French are used to negotiating things. We Germans, on the other hand, are fixated on rules and less on negotiation. Both systems work, but not when mixed together. When the French drive according to their rules in Germany, there is chaos. Likewise the German, who stubbornly drives over the traffic light when it is green in Paris without looking because he thinks no one can come. We have similar traffic regulations in Europe, but there are different cultures of interpretation. The more foreigners there are on our streets, the greater the range of behavior.
Why do we actually speak of "sexual intercourse" in German?
Good question. I once had a practice with a colleague on the Kreuzweg in Hamburg. In the house there was a porn cinema, a pawn shop and a sadomasochism club. In between there was our sign "traffic psychologist" - this naturally gave rise to misunderstandings.
The philosopher Peter Sloterdijk even ascribed a phallic function to the car and suspected that especially weak-minded people had a strong tendency to use the automobile as their means of expression.
I have often observed that drivers who lead an intense life and are on the road a lot see driving as a purpose and no longer as a fun factor after a certain amount of time. The others come to me. I have a certain group of clients that I would call "giant babies." Tall, young men, a little unformed. They don't have their own apartment, no job, no girlfriend, but a car. Your car is your lifeworld, it's a potency crutch.
Is it incurable or can it be treated away?
I once had a management consultant who was sadomasochistic. I said to him: It's wonderful when you glide slowly with your Bentley. They could drive differently, but they don't and the others are forced to adapt. Driving slowly can also be power. He liked that.
The German autobahn is world famous. The Japanese book highway tours, Hollywood actors rave about the great freedom on talk shows. How come
The German autobahn is a behavioral proposition to which motorists around the world respond with covetous fantasies. People are fascinated by freedom. To have a racetrack without limits, where I can push my car and the limits of my car. Only racing drivers can do that. To be able to have that in everyday life is a tempting illusion.
In reality, the construction site is already around the next bend.
And there is no point in driving faster than allowed. Let's do a little quiz: You are driving a five-kilometer motorway construction site at one hundred instead of the permitted eighty kilometers an hour. How much time do you save?
You save 45 seconds. So nine seconds per kilometer. Since it only takes you three minutes to complete the route, you wouldn't save more than those three minutes even at the speed of light. I often let my clients estimate how much time the loss of their driver's license cost them. Most of them work at least a hundred hours. So you would have to drive twenty kilometers an hour too fast for 42,000 kilometers to recover the time it took to lose your driver's license. But even people who deal with such invoices in their job as controllers don't do that in the car. When driving a car, the mind stops.
Does driving bring out the worst in people?
Even the word “automobile” is an illusion because it suggests that we could use it to drive from A to B on our own at any time. In advertising, you see people and cars in areas devoid of people or cars: deserts, coastal roads, mountains. Even in the cities you hardly see any other cars because the car manufacturers want to sell us the dream of free travel for free citizens. The reality is: I'm stuck in a traffic jam, I can't find a parking space, I can't make any headway. The feeling of freedom that the car is supposed to convey is totally absent in everyday life. This is a disappointment that many compensate for with aggressive driving behavior.
Is Speed Limit One hundred and Thirty On Highways A Good Thing?
Yes. Take a look at America, Scandinavia, Australia - all countries with huge distances. The people there drive relatively steadily and slowly. As a driver there, you are more willing to fall into a kind of marathon pace over longer distances. In freedom-loving America, the amazingly low speed limit of 55 miles per hour, or nearly ninety kilometers per hour, applies, and most of them stick to it. The flow capacity of road sections depends on the average speed and the homogeneity of the speed. At high speeds, the safety distances must be greater. The optimum is eighty to one hundred kilometers an hour, which is where you can get through most of the cars.
Where does the so-called traffic jam come from?
That happens when traffic systems reach their limit. The street is full, everyone is driving hard at the speed limit - then all you have to do is hit the brakes. The one behind him has to brake harder, the disruption spreads to the rear until the traffic collapses.
Do you have a tip for holiday drivers?
Be a humble driver. Realize that driving a car does not mean getting anywhere at the speed you want at all times. You have to queue up in traffic flows and are much more dependent on other drivers than you think.
Are you afraid of losing your job if one day Google presents the self-driving car?
I don't think something like that will catch on. There are international legal agreements that require that the driver of motor vehicles can intervene at any time. Who should be liable in the event of an accident: the driver, the car manufacturer, the programmer of the software? The driver assistance systems must have a picture of how other road users are moving. If these prevail, the uncertainty increases. The systems can be programmed to predict human behavior. At the same time, they must also be able to predict the behavior of other systems. That is completely incalculable.
You don't have a car yourself. Why not?
Most motorists underestimate the time they need to get the mobility concept of their own car. Calculate how much time you spend in the car, in the car and for the car. At the time of travel comes the time for refueling, washing, registering, and workshop checks. Not to forget: the working hours that you have to spend to be able to afford the car. Add all this up and offset it against the mileage per year, and you will get an average speed of between three and 27 kilometers per hour, depending on the car class and income. For me, as a non-driver, none of that applies. I get on my bike and can go straight away.
15 years ago you found like-minded people and started a car-free housing project in Hamburg. How does this work?
We discussed very intensively in advance how tight the rules should be. We tried to find compromises and balance, but at the beginning we also had to push things through harder because we wanted to set a political example. For example, we had to build parking spaces, but try to keep them free. You can do car sharing or take a taxi, but you cannot have your own parking space. We have exceptions, for example if someone gets sick. Then an administrative committee made up of three people decides. We once had a midwife who lived here and did everything by bike, but then got pregnant herself. The got an exemption for half a year.
What happens if one of your roommates buys an e-bike?
We are currently negotiating how to deal with e-bikes and pedelecs. I strictly adhere to the definition of a motor vehicle: a motor-driven, non-rail-bound land vehicle. But if you want, you can get a motorboat for the canal next to the house.
Traffic therapist Jörg-Michael Sohn
has worked with people who have lost their driver's license for more than three decades. He doesn't own a car, but two bicycles, and didn't get his driver's license until he was thirty so that he could better empathize with his clients.
Photos: Óscar Monzón
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