One of Germany's busiest highways has come under attack for its high accident rate during construction work. The A1 between Bremen and Hamburg has been dubbed "Germany's most dangerous road."
There were 1,574 accidents on the A1 in 2009
Over 70,000 drivers use the A1 motorway between Bremen and Hamburg every day. Yet regular travelers on the road face long delays, as the 73-kilometer (45.4-mile) stretch of road between the two cities is also home to Europe's most ambitious road building project.
Instead of building one section at a time, construction on two new lanes for the A1 is taking place simultaneously in seven sections along the motorway. The project started in 2009 and is scheduled to finish in 2012, when the current four-lane highway will have two new lanes, one in each direction.
However, since work started in 2009, attention has focused on the high rate of accidents taking place on the road. In 2008 there were 682 accidents; in 2009, this leapt to 1,574. These statistics caused the German weekly newspaper Die Zeit to dub the road "the most dangerous in Germany."
Losing side mirrors
Strict speed limits try to limit accidents
The main problem for drivers on the A1 is that they must pay constant attention while driving through the construction zones and intermittent sections of normal roadway.
"Seven sections of building work is a lot for the German highway user. Normally they would only expect one big section," Stefan Moeller, of the German Automobile Drivers' Club (ADAC), told Deutsche Welle.
During the sections where work is taking place, the two lanes of traffic have been made slightly narrower, which is seen as the root cause of many of the accidents.
"The lanes are only 2.2 meters (7.2 feet) wide and when the truck drivers do not drive fully to the right, it causes drivers stress. Then we have lots of accidents with side mirrors being knocked off and the like," said Moeller.
Indeed, police in Lower Saxony say the reason for the skyrocketing accident figures on the A1 was in large part due to minor scrapes, where mirrors were lost or the sides of cars dented.
Two new lanes are being built alongside the old ones
Analyzing the accidents
The Rotenburg police headquarters is located a few kilometers from the A1, in the state of Lower Saxony. It is here that the bulk of the analysis of the traffic accidents on the motorway takes place, as the A1 runs through the heart of the police district.
Detlev Kaldinski, with the Rotenburg police, is keen to point out that it's only the minor accidents that went up so dramatically in 2009.
"Last year we actually had a low amount of serious accidents," Kaldinski told Deutsche Welle. The figure for 2009 was 85, compared with 91 in 2008 and 129 in 2007.
Kaldinski is confident the situation is getting better as sections of the road are completed and can return to normal lane width. "This year we have seen less than half the accidents of last year," he said.
So far in 2010 there have been 13 deaths on the highway, and the police routinely conduct thorough research into the causes of the accidents in order to avoid future tragedies.
"We have issued warnings about driving too close to trucks, told people to stick to the speed limits and [said that] overtaking in certain sections is forbidden," Kaldinski said.
More lanes needed
The A1 is an old motorway, and sections of it were built before World War II. In order to cope with the heavy commuter traffic between Bremen and Hamburg, and the volume of transit trucks using the road as a route from Scandinavia to Western Europe, it was agreed that the road needed to be wider.
"On the route between Bremen and Hamburg we have very heavy transit traffic. We only have two lanes in each direction, which is not enough," ADAC's Moeller said.
WIth only a two-lane road and all that transit traffic, there was often blocked traffic and serious accidents. Moeller has confidence that the new three-lane road will mean "fewer traffic jams and fewer accidents."
Funding for the restructuring of the A1 has come from three private investors rather than from the government, which is not the norm.
These investors have paid for upgrading the road in return for receiving the road tax money paid by the transport companies for the next 30 years.
Looking forward to 2012
In just four years, this strip of the A1 will be transformed from a four-lane roadway built in the 1930s into a new, modern six-lane highway.
In addition to the new lanes, 70 of the bridges over the Autobahn have had to be knocked down and replaced with wider bridges.
"Drivers will be able to start relaxing and enjoying the road once again," said ADAC's Mueller - a welcome relief to the thousands of commuters and truckers who use the A1 on a daily basis.
Author: Catherine Bolsover
Editor: Martin Kuebler