West Germany tries to iron out its summer traffic snarls

Picnicking on the highway is not the average motorist's idea of spending a relaxing and pleasant afternoon or day.

But thousands have no choice in West Germany, when they find themselves bumper-to-bumper with other motorists in traffic that moves at a snail's pace - or perhaps not at all.

Forty to fifty kilometers of stop-and-go or standing traffic on the autobahn lets people's tempers flare. From mid-June through the end of September, West German highways are choked with traffic, as the annual summer recess sends millions of vacationers on the road.

An attempt to stagger the traffic by ordering the 11 federal states to start their vacations on a graduated basis (Hamburg started June 16, Bavaria will begin the summer holidays on July 29 and the others come somewhere in between) has done virtually nothing to ease the situation.

It appears that as soon as school lets out and fathers and mothers finish the last day of work, they head for the highways en masse. Some people start early in the morning, hoping to outdrive the jams.

The jams are caused by the inevitable summer construction jobs and by roads that simply were not built for the traffic onslaught.

This year the ADAC (West German Automobile Club - the largest such club in Germany) will be trying out something new in the hope of easing the situation.

The ADAC has hired and trained a motorcycle crew to rove the highways and comfort people caught in the long jams and bring them news of what is ahead.

Each weekend and at other peak times, the crew will be sent into the jams to advise motorists and provide support.

''For many motorists, being caught in their cars on the highways without a way out or off produces the same feeling as being trapped in an elevator. They panic.

''Of course, our motorcycle helpers cannot do anything about the jam, but they can provide a friendly word, they can explain what is causing the jam, can smooth frazzled nerves and perhaps say when the traffic will start moving again, '' a spokesman for the ADAC said.

Families with small children usually suffer most, because it often means standing for hours in the hot sun, sometimes without food or drink, because the parents had intended to stop at the next restaurant for a snack.

The motorcycle crews will provide the youngsters with toys and a refreshing drink, will tell mothers where the next changing station is, and generally try to perk up moods. They will distribute packs of cards to nervous drivers.

''I think it is necessary to help these poor people. When they know that someone is reachable, that someone knows what the jam is all about, they will not feel so helpless and they can come through the ordeal in better condition. That is important for driving safely to their destination,'' says Helene-Katharina Forster, the only woman in the motorcycle crew.

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