Germany's legendary roads stave off a challenge from the Greens and keep the dream alive for drivers everywhere.
By Jens Meiners, 18 October 2019
- The German Parliament voted 498–126 (with seven abstentions) to keep the country's autobahn highway system free of an upper speed limit.
- The Green Party had campaigned for an 80-mph limit on the famous roads.
- Opponents of a speed limit pointed out, correctly, that fatality rates on the autobahn are among the lowest on any roads in the world.
The autobahn is a defining factor in the perception of Germany abroad, but the topic is highly contested and politically charged at home. While many Germans don't wish to give up their no-limit autobahnen, others see the absence of a speed limit as an anachronism.
Yesterday's parliamentary debate brought out the arguments pro and con in a lively manner. Green Party big shot Cem Özdemir claimed that roads would be safer with a speed limit, and he asked for German's "special way" to be ended. He also expressed hope that automatized driving would end "tailgating and flashing lights," claiming that "you can't drive 140 mph in one lane and 80 mph in the next one."
The post-communist Left Party volunteered that "electric mobility" should mean more "trains and trams," while the Social Democrats, who are in a ruling coalition with the Christian Democrats, argued that they would support a speed limit were it not for their obligations to the coalition. The centrist CDU, the center-liberal FDP, and the conservative AfD all argued against a speed limit. FDP's Oliver Luksic waffled that "highways are the real problem" and refused to rule out more speed limits where "needed," but spoke against a blanket limit. Meanwhile, CDU's Gero Storjohann reminded the Greens that the state of Baden-Württemberg, where they are in a coalition with the CDU, doesn't limit the maximum speed either, and he warned against "total surveillance."
AfD's Dirk Spaniel, a former Daimler development engineer, said that many countries with drastic speed limits have far higher accident rates. He added that in countries with speed limits, people tend to take the plane instead of their car on longer trips.
Spaniel is correct: The autobahn road system, situated in one of the most traveled places on earth, is extremely safe. Accident rates have fallen dramatically over the past few decades, and many of the remaining deaths can be attributed to factors other than speed. Today, the fatality rate is one of the lowest in the world. Those opposed to a speed limit argue that this could be due to the fact that due to the differences in velocity, drivers are alert, generally stay to the right when not passing, and tend to stay aware of their surroundings.
It is no wonder that speed limits have gradually eased all over the globe. Austria's limit has been provisionally raised to 87 mph on select stretches; Abu Dhabi allows 100 mph on sections of the road system, and many U.S. states are raising limits as well.
It has been reported that in the summer of 1995, Germany chancellor Angela Merkel, then minister for environmental affairs, broke out in tears over Helmut Kohl's refusal to mandate a speed limit on the autobahn. She showed no such emotion when the members of Parliament spoke yesterday. The vote was 126 for a speed limit, 498 against, with seven abstentions. The topic, it seems, is settled for a few more years.