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Speeding on the Autobahn

That was (almost) a close call!  But, according to Germany’s transport minister, Andreas Scheuer, “common sense” has prevailed, and leaked proposals by a government-appointed committee on the future of mobility to impose a 130 kph (80 mph) speed limit on the country’s autobahn network have been rejected.

Speed limit on the autobahn

Postponing the proposals

The heated debate is over … for now or, according to government spokesperson Steffen Seifert, speaking to reporters in Berlin on January 28, 2019 for “anytime soon” adding, “There are more intelligent control mechanisms than a general speed limit.”  He did point out, though, that the committee will not be finalizing its proposals until the end of March, which are also expected to address other issues such as a fuel tax hike, an end to tax breaks for diesel cars, and quotas for electric and hybrid vehicle. In turn, the committee’s findings will be incorporated into a climate change law the German government wants to enact in 2019.

Some consider Berlin’s inner-city AVUS—The Automobil-Verkehrs-und Übungsstraße—translated, Automobile traffic and training road— built between 1913 and 1921 to be Germany’s oldest autobahn, but at only 10 km (6.2 miles) in length when first constructed, others call it an autobahn prototype. It has been said that the first “proper” German autobahn—translated, a ‘vehicles-only road’— opened on August 6, 1932 connecting Cologne and Bonn.

Some argue that it is a myth that the government of Nazi Germany commissioned this first autobahn, it being a project initiated by the then lord mayor of Cologne, Konrad Adenauer. Today, this stretch of road is part of the A555 autobahn.

As part of the autobahn tradition, Germany is the only European country with no official speed limit on its autobahn network, apart from some 30% of it— some 7,640 kilometers (4,747 miles)— on stretches generally in and around cities and roadworks.  Where unrestricted, however, vehicles traveling at speeds of over 200 kph (150 mph) are not unusual.

Since the 1970s, the term “Freie Fahrt für freie Bürger” —translated, Unrestricted driving for free citizens—has been the rallying cry of those who want to preserve this status quo.  Unrestricted travel speeds on the remaining majority portion of the system is also strongly endorsed by the nation’s auto industry, manufacturers of some of the most powerful cars in the world, but also with top speeds generally limited to 250 kph (155 mph.)

The issue arose recently in response to the prospect of Germany’s incurring EU penalties for failing to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and poisonous nitrogen oxides.  Proponents say reducing the speed on the autobahns would, in addition to reducing air pollution and (it is suggested) fighting climate change, also reduce the number of collisions.

Interestingly enough, a recent survey by the Emnid Institute, published by the Bild am Sonntagnewspaper of German drivers responding to the leak about the prospect of a system-wide 130 kph limit suggests a narrow majority do not share the Transport Minister’s view.  Fifty-two percent of those polled agreed that speeds of between 120 and 140 kph (75 to 87 mph) would be appropriate to supposedly tackle climate change; forty-six percent opposed such limits.

Road Rules by Cedric Hughes