The top speed on our highways is 110km/h if you discount the Northern Territory. If you happen to go even 5km/h over the speed limit your chances of dying are increased, so we are told, and if you happen to go 40-50km/h over the speed limit, in this case about 160km/h on the highway, you’re not only borderline insane, but we will take your licence away and make an example out of your deranged behaviour.
Like most of you, I know the consequences of going faster than the posted speed limit in Australia first hand. Our traffic police enforce the speed limit with such a level of diligence - with no room for discretion (or common sense) - that they would make excellent certified accountants.
There’s nothing quite like going past a hidden speed camera a smidgen over the speed limit and watching it flash. It’s one of those feelings that is universally detested.
The thought of it all rang alarm bells in my mind as the digital speedometer in the Audi RS7 clicked over to 274km/h on a stretch of autobahn coming out of Dresden heading for Munich. The typical take-off speed for an Airbus A380 is 280km/h. It was truly time to fly.
Despite the obvious noises of travelling at that speed, the car was silent on the inside, my co-driver and good friend (who works for another motoring publication) as well as our German photographer, Tobias – barely buckled and leaning over the backseat ready to get that magical 300km/h shot – were excited.
We had planned to do this trip months ago as part of an epic Audi RS drive across Germany, hoping to break the 300km/h barrier together. I have managed 362km/h before, but it didn’t matter, because every time you see the speedo go past 300, it’s truly magic.
If the heavy autobahn traffic wasn’t enough to scare me, there was the near-torrential rain to deal with and the occasional Polish driver that would insist the left lane was his for the taking.
I was going to hit 300km/h though; there was no question in my intent. Come rain or hail, Audi’s quattro system is basically unbeatable for these sorts of situations and I wasn’t going to pass it up.
Plus, I live in Brisbane, where I would no doubt end up in a high-security prison being assessed by a psychologist for suicidal tendencies if this was to be attempted there. The time was now.
Germany was going to prove once again why it’s the homeland of the world’s best-engineered cars.
Australia is a beautiful country. In fact, it’s the best country on earth. We are shielded away from all of the world’s hot spots - in terms of war or famine - and despite measuring 50 per cent bigger than all of Europe and a staggering 32 times bigger than the UK, we have a tiny population. The downside of having such a vast country with so few people is that our public road infrastructure is abysmal to say the least.
More than that, we are petrified of doing things outside the norm. Being insulated and without road contact to the outside world has turned us, largely, into Americans. I say largely because the difference between the American and Australian psyche is that the majority of us do as we are told without question, while the Americans are a little more intolerant of bureaucracy. In Texas, for example, they literally take up arms against speed cameras.
Besides how much I love Australia, there are so many things I dislike about Germany. The food especially gets me. It’s a culinary sensation equivalent to driving an old Jeep in a straight line: there’s never a smooth moment and you regret it throughout the entire process.
Still, as I end up on a self-imposed diet, it's a great way to save weight for these high-speed runs.
And what better car to do this in than a Quattro Audi RS7. It may not look like a supercar but it may as well be. Any car that can do 300km/h and feel as though it’s going for a leisurely trip to the shops demands my utmost respect.
At 292km/h all I could hear were the windscreen wipers forcefully pushing the water out of the way and the occasional slight readjustment of my hands gently holding on to the steering wheel. Though there wasn’t much time to think, I briefly thought about what other cars would have windscreen wipers that still work at this speed? Vorsprung durch Technik, indeed.
You can’t be nervous or cramped in a situation like this. Experience will tell you that calm and gentle is the best approach when going fast. There’s no room for panicky inputs, be it to the steering wheel or the pedals.
The speedometer was getting closer and closer, then it stopped. 298km/h. There was a incline and the RS7’s 4.0-litre twin-turbo V8 engine producing 412kW of power and 700Nm of torque, was just holding the speed, unable to climb. I could see kilometres in front, there were hundreds of cars all in the right lanes, almost willing me on. Then it happened. 300, 302, 305 and moments later, 312km/h.
I was positive I could hit 320, I was certain. But all that was shattered by a Polish-registered Volkswagen Golf that pulled into the left lane a few hundred meters ahead. Plenty of time to brake? No, not really.
At 312km/h you’re covering about 87 metres per second, so by the time your brain registers the car in front and signals your right foot to engage the brakes, you’ve probably covered more than 100m.
Audi doesn’t sell the RS7 with a derestricted top-speed unless you option the carbon ceramic brakes. Seemed like a greedy decision if you’d asked me a few weeks ago, or up until the point where I applied the brakes at 312km/h and Audi’s computers decided to apply maximum braking – having used its forward collision technology to calculate that it was the best course of action to avoid ending up inside the Golf.
There was a violent moment (hence the blurry 312km/h picture) when the brakes almost instantly brought our RS7 to a staggeringly slow 210km/h safely behind the Golf with about 150m to spare (or about one and a bit seconds of reaction time at our top speed). It costs $20,940 for carbon ceramic brakes, but it’s well worth it if you live in Germany.
The poor old Golf driver, nursing a heart attack at the sight of the RS7 coming up behind it at such velocity, moved out of the way almost instantly but there was no need to keep going. It was done, 300km/h and more.
Every time you get in a car, there are risks, doing 300km/h in the rain is probably slightly risker than the average drive, but we are talking about the autobahn here, were 200km/h often feels slow.
I knew the RS7 had forward collision detection and I knew how good the brakes were. We had tested braking from 250km/h down to slower speeds plenty of times and the Audi felt absolutely rock solid and desperate to hit the magic 3. All of us inside had enough experience to know we could attempt it as safely as possible. You can’t be prepared for everything and there are always risks, but remember, this is well within the norm in Germany.
If you’ve never been on an autobahn, forget whatever you know about public roads. It’s the opposite. You fly past a police car at 250km/h and all you get is a wave when they catch up at a later time.
It’s some sort of bizarre world were at any moment you expect the Germans to burst out in laughter to tell you that it’s all a joke. But it’s not. It’s real and it happens 24 hours a day, seven days a week in a country not all that dissimilar to ours.
It’s also not entirely without speed limits. Many sections have 130km/h or even 100km/h limits, but as our German photographer pointed out “you are safe even in these zones up to around 150km/h”. God bless the Germans. Not that we needed much pushing, considering old grandmothers in E-Class Mercedes were flying past at impressive pace. Are we slower than someone’s 70-year-old grandmother? Yes, Australia, we really are.
Another misconception is that the autobahn is a massive straight line. It’s not. It has curves and sweeping long bends even in the derestricted sections. My point? You are expected to know how to drive. Sure, you can stick in the right (slow) lanes and do 120km/h like a respectable Australian, but the cars passing you on the left will blow you away.
It costs more than $2,000 to have your driving licence issued in Germany. Along with it comes plenty of mandatory driving lessons, including autobahn and night time driving that you have to pay for separately. It’s not a 20-minute test like the one we have here and the result is competent drivers.
I am going to give you some facts to remember next time someone says: “Don’t speed and you have nothing to worry about.”
There are currently 81 million people in Germany and 23.5 million people in Australia. In 2013, 3502 people died on German roads, while Australia lost 1196 during the same period. If you put those numbers together as road fatalities per 100,000 inhabitants per year, Germany comes out the winner at 4.3 while Australia is 5.0.
Even if you look at it in terms of the number of cars registered in Germany (61.5 million), which discounts the millions of other European registered vehicles that drive through the country, as oppose to in Australia (17.6 million) the figures are still in Germanys favour at 5.6 deaths per 100,000 vehicles versus 6.7 for Australia.
Lets go back to the beginning. Speed kills. But does it really? I and the before-mentioned statistics are proof that it’s not speed that kills.
I know what some of you are thinking. You can’t compare Australia to Germany: 'The infrastructure!' you scream. Please, spare me. The M1 between Brisbane at the Gold Coast is better than any autobahn I have ever been on, yet it’s capped at 110km/h and diseased with speed cameras.
But you’d be partially correct. Our roads (and drivers) are not up to having unlimited speed limits (unless you live in the Northern Territory – which in my opinion isn’t even close to being up to required standards) but why is that an excuse anyway? Why don’t we fix the roads and improve driver education rather than install more speed cameras?
The speed-camera advocates will argue that in the last decade the national annual road toll has decreased by 25 per cent, fatalities per population has decreased by 35 per cent and the annual number of fatal crashes has decreased by 23 per cent. All true, but somehow, they will then try and associate these figures with the growing number of speed cameras. This is an entirely made up argument with no basis in reality.
The declining road toll (evident in nearly all first world countries over the last decade) has all to do with the increased levels of safety in modern cars.
The facts show that while the number of road fatalities has decreased, the number of serious accidents per population remains largely unchanged going back many decades. While in the past the majority of these serious accidents were fatal, that is no longer the case.
We have the car companies to thank for the decreasing road toll, not our state governments. The over-zealous enforcement of road speed limits has done basically nothing (except help with the state budget) to improve road safety.
Of course going faster and faster increases your chances of having an accident. My argument is not for higher speed limits, per se, but a relaxation of speed limit enforcement, which in its current form is having the opposite affect by creating heavily distracted drivers focused on their speed rather than the road.
By any form of logic, the solution is not more speed cameras; the solution is better roads, better education, better drivers. Yes it will cost money, yes it will take time, but what better time than now?
But Australians won't learn to become better drivers if politicians and the police continue to feed misconceptions about speeding to the public.
On another note, after this was all done, we drove to Munich airport through a never-ending series of twisty roads in seriously heavy rain. I spent the majority of the time going about 78km/h in an 80 zone just because I didn't think it was safe to go any faster. I was subsequently overtaken by at least two dozen cars, driven by regular people, who obviously felt more capable in the wet than me, in far less capable cars. God bless the Germans.