A minor two-car accident on a German autobahn turned into a 52-car pileup with three deaths and two dozen injuries on Friday night. On a stretch of A31 not far from the Dutch border, two sedans got into a "harmless fender bender" in heavy fog. A German newspaper report said traffic isn't normally heavy there, so it could have taken a few minutes as 50 more cars plowed into that original incident.

Two of the deaths occurred after two drivers left their cars and perhaps sought safety behind a guardrail; they were found under another car that had flipped the barrier. The final fatality was found in his car that had slid down an incline beside the road.

"Autobahn" describes any German highway and most are speed limited, so this isn't necessarily about unrestricted speed. Investigators don't yet know what caused the accident, but another German report claims that police are investigating for potential manslaughter charges. Follow the jump for a video of the aftermath.



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    • 1 Second Ago
  • 32 Comments
      MONTEGOD7SS
      • 3 Years Ago
      Fog is the one thing you can't control. In ice and snow you can just slow down and be safer, but in fog you don't know what to do. Do you stay the same speed, and if so what speed is that? Do you stop? Do you stay in your car or take the chance on getting out and getting hammered? What if you decide to slow to 20mph, but somebody else decides 40mph is slow enough? By the time you are seen it's too late and then the pileup starts. Nothing on the road scares me because it's all in my control, except fog. It terrifies me because I can't control what the other person does.
        Georg
        • 3 Years Ago
        @MONTEGOD7SS
        this is wrong... in Germany are strict ruels how everyone has to drive in fog conditions... 1. rule if the view is less than 50m (on every Autobahn easy to calculate by the distance of the guid posts... they are placed each 50m) the allowed topspeed is 50km/h (31mph)... 2. rule if the sight is below 50m for each m of view 1km/h speed... if you can see 10m you are allowed to drive 10km/h if you see 20m you are allowed to drive 20km/h etc.. 3. rule you always have to drive a speed that allows you to stop in your field of view... if everyone would respect the rules no one would crash ... the thing is that many people ignore the rules and are the reason that crashes under fog conditions happen..
          wilkegm
          • 3 Years Ago
          @Georg
          If everyone followed the rules... unfortunately, even German drivers aren't perfect. To make matters worse, Germany has a high percentage of foreign drivers that just aren't as well trained (we sure aren't in 'Murica) I remember an accident like this on the 401 a few years ago. That highway and most Autobahn sections differ from US freeways in their much tighter shoulders. There just isn't the room to clear a minor accident to the side or avoid one. The rules Georg sites are the reason tragedies like this are rare, and there could have easily been more fatalities if a semi truck had plowed into all this. My pa eaters are with all those involved.
        Egon
        • 3 Years Ago
        @MONTEGOD7SS
        Good point. A while back, I recall seeing the results of a study conducted in a driving simulator - ironically, I believe Mercedes was the sponsor - that suggested that many drivers actually travel *faster* in dense fog. IIRC, the possible explanation was the reduced situational awareness due to reduced visibility.
        icerabbit
        • 3 Years Ago
        @MONTEGOD7SS
        Agreed. It can be extremely difficult and next to impossible to do the right thing with other drivers. Similar issues arise in the US for instance with sudden a sudden tropical down poor. It is sometimes nerve wrecking to drive in Florida during a thunder storm on a summer's afternoon. People will slow to a crawl and even stop in any lane on the interstate while other drivers are approaching from behind at the speed limit. Driver education, preventive driving and situational awareness is absolutely lacking in the US. Doesn't matter where you go; I see people drive in heavy rain, snow & fog without lights; not keep a minimum safe distance in adverse weather conditions ... and some have the balls to be weaving in and out of traffic under these conditions to get a vehicle or two ahead. Btw: I still can't comprehend why American cars lack rear fog lights?!?! And while we are at it: how in the world is it legal to put black plastic covers over your headlights and tail lights, reducing visibility to 50% and less, more like 25%??? There are more than a few "customized" trucks & rides on the road with these "protective covers" that should be banned. Vehicles with them are a public danger at night and in adverse conditions. I've seen several accidents in the fall and winter where fog was a factor. Under seemingly perfectly fine weather conditions (no rain, snow, ...), just some colder temperatures, a road has a bridge over a river, or starts to runs parallel to a river or some big ditch ... and you literally drive at the legal speed limit into a foggy area; without warning signs typically. Sometimes the fog is a few feet of the ground and you can see under it, if not, usually with rear fog lights you can drive safely, but once in a while it is like driving in a cloud. Not fun. It is tricky. In Florida during those thunderstorms, on a multi lane road, I typically try to keep left and keep driving at a moderate speed with all lights on. Seems like that is the safest place to be with at least a "way out" to the left ... away from stopped vehicles in the break down lane and first lane, and stop & go erratic driving and merge lanes on the right. In New England, with winter weather, I just keep right and follow along with the rest of vehicles, at an extra long distance. Whoever wants to drive faster can go around. Better to get somewhere safe but late than not getting there.
          CaptPugwash
          • 3 Years Ago
          @icerabbit
          I for one are glad that most US cars don't have fog lamps. Most US drivers are not skilled enough to use the switch that controls the turn signals at the correct time. What is the chance that given yet another switch to operate that it would fair any better. Think I'm being a bit harsh, most Euro imports do have rear fog lamps, the Olds Aurora also had them. So next time your driving at night check out how many of these vehicle have there front and rear fog lamps on regardless of the weather.
      Krishan Mistry
      • 3 Years Ago
      If a fog is that heavy that 50 cars run into a massive pileup without seeing a thing (and over the course of several minutes), I dont think anyone should have been driving. Reminds me of that minigame in Burnout where you crash a couple cars in an intersection and then 200 cars all drive right in as if they cant see a thing, resulting in multimillion dollar carnage. Terrible loss with those dead or severely injured, I hope they find the real cause of the accident. Looks like it ISNT derestricted speed at issue here (for all we know, it could be a zero tolerance 40mph in this weather), but no doubt some politician will use this as leverage in an attempt to crack down on whatever small portions of the Autobahn that still remain unlimited.
        onewayroll
        • 3 Years Ago
        @Krishan Mistry
        When weather conditions are bad on any part of the autobahn, there are speed limits. This is a very unfortunate case of no visibility causing a major pileup. Happens all over the world. I've been on the Autobahn and they don't mess around.
      Azazel
      • 3 Years Ago
      Regardless of whether the accident happened on a speed restricted part of the Autobahn, the enemies of the Autobahn will use this as an excuse to further clamp down on what little freedom is left on the Autobahn.
        Lachmund
        • 3 Years Ago
        @Azazel
        come on..it was foggy. **** happens when people are stupid and don't adapt their driving behaviour.
        Elmo
        • 3 Years Ago
        @Azazel
        No, they won't. When there's severe weather conditions like this, the unrestricted parts of the Autobahn have speed limits in order to keep this type of thing from happening in a much more deadly situation.
      Easy_Eight
      • 3 Years Ago
      Cars need radar.
      over9000
      • 3 Years Ago
      probably an Autoblog fanboy testing out the top speed of his VW turbo diesel hatch...
      breakfastburrito
      • 3 Years Ago
      No point in posting this as a video. Jeezus. Snuff films next? Autosnuffblog.com
        Egon
        • 3 Years Ago
        @breakfastburrito
        That's some pretty benign B-roll news footage. No reason to be upset over that unless you're shedding tears over wrecked M-Bs.
      Carbon Fibre
      • 3 Years Ago
      Seems hard to believe that having Fog all over, drivers continue to drive. Out of the 52, I know there are more smarter and pre cautious drivers that halt to a complete stop, but what are you going to do from idiots behind you?
        icerabbit
        • 3 Years Ago
        @Carbon Fibre
        Likely this is one of those places where there is a change in typography and you drive into a fog bank. Fog has different density. A few people drove in, slowed down ... others thought it wouldn't be that dense and drove in at a higher speed. Of course there will have been safe drivers who reacted properly but got rear-ended by someone who failed to keep safe distance etc and underestimated the density. I think coming to a complete stop in the roadway is the absolute worst thing to do. If you think/feel you can't see enough, pull off to the right as far as you can. Get as far away from the travel lanes as you can. Don't stop in your lane unless there is congestion or an accident ahead of you. In inclement weather t is far better to keep driving at a lowered speed with your lights + rear fog light(s) + emergency lights + tapping the brake pedal ... if you can't see the vehicle behind you. I've driven in plenty of adverse weather and seen many accidents ahead ... where other people seem completely oblivious, and it is the first thing I do: get some lights going to signal traffic behind you, slow down gradually till a safe speed is reached and then drive in block around the accident, through the fog, rain, ...
          Agilis
          • 3 Years Ago
          @icerabbit
          +1 (Would like to vote up more) on this very intelligent comment.
      BJ
      • 3 Years Ago
      If an official wants to protect the Autobahn, the clear choice is to persecute the offending driver (which is likely the correct course of action).
      - v o c t u s -
      • 3 Years Ago
      Why would anyone be fast enough to FLIP a car upon impact... in zero visibility fog like that?!?! Total death wish!
      That Mike
      • 3 Years Ago
      Let's play over/under. Over/Under 35 station wagons in that clip?
      Jeffie Was Here Man
      • 3 Years Ago
      My wife grew up close to here in the Netherlands. We flew into Dusseldorf to visit her parents in October, and traveled this road twice. It is unlimited speed there. It's also not that busy. That being said, something irresponsible had to have happened with the people who had the fender bender, like parking on the road, or traffic approaching left the road because they couldn't see lane markers, for this pileup to happen.
      Robert B
      • 3 Years Ago
      The stretch of highway is perfectly straight and relatively new stretch. There's no speedlimit on the stretch and normally there are hardly any cars driving there.
        SpikedLemon
        • 3 Years Ago
        @Robert B
        If foggy: it should qualify under the "bei nässe" limit. I don' t know about this stretch but often it's 100km/h. Heavy fog though: I'd have a hard time wanting to drive even that quick. Besides: all it takes is either some idiot trolling the left lane and another car holding speed there.
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