EUROPE: Never On Sonntag or Domenica

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For Americans, nondriving Sundays are still a novelty; for many Europeans, they already are part of the regular round of life. Over the past month or so, six European countries—Belgium, The Netherlands, West Germany, Switzerland, Italy and just this week, Denmark —have flatly forbidden all Sunday driving, except for cars owned by diplomats, doctors, taximen and a very few others.

Although nothing that drastic is planned in the U.S., the Nixon Administration does intend to convert the present voluntary ban on Sunday gasoline sales into a mandatory prohibition once Congress passes the necessary legislation. So the economic and social effects of the European bans may offer a preview of the American future—distorted somewhat by the fact that Europe is far less dependent on the car than the U.S. is; many more Europeans than Americans have access to cheap, safe, clean and ubiquitous public transportation.

Despite that factor, the driving bans have grievously hurt some European businesses. Sunday revenues of German hotels and restaurants have dropped as much as 30% to 70% since Sabbath driving was forbidden three weeks ago. The picturesque villages on the left bank of the Rhine between Bonn and Koblenz look all but deserted of tourists on Sundays. The Swiss ski industry is suffering; after two carless Sundays, crowds are thin at the resorts, and there is no waiting on tow lines. Skiers who usually arrive by car seem to be spurning the doubled train and bus schedules that the government has provided from cities. In Belgium, it had long been a national tradition for city families to pile into the car for a drive and Sunday dinner at a distant restaurant. Now sales in the outlying restaurants, especially in the Ardennes, have plummeted disastrously; whole villages dependent on the trade have been hurt. The howls grew so loud that the government—sensitive to shopkeepers, who make up a large proportion of the population—has partially relaxed the ban. Originally forbidden until 3 a.m. Monday, driving is now permitted after 8 Sunday evening. The Netherlands will drop gasless Sundays altogether January 7, when it becomes the first European country to ration.

A Stiff Belt. In-town businesses catering to people forced to stay close to home are booming. Restaurants in Swiss cities report increases of 10% to 40% in Sunday sales. Sunday attendance at West German movie theaters is up by around 30%. Department stores are peddling record quantities of liquor—everything from local schnapps to $20 imported bottles of American sour mash—to Germans who apparently find the prospect of staying home Sunday unbearable without a stiff belt. With weekend accident rates declining, insurance companies say they are pondering pressure to lower rates. Repair shops, crammed for the past several years, have seen their business decline only marginally.

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