• Germany edition
 
The View from Germany
'It's time Germany got over its speed fetish'
Photo: DPA

'It's time Germany got over its speed fetish'

Published: 14 May 2013 14:58 GMT+02:00
Updated: 14 May 2013 14:58 GMT+02:00

Every country has its own fetish - an object of irrational obsession that touches something deep inside. Something so deep it's almost sexual. Three symptoms always betray what that thing is:

1) Mocking it can only be done by the country's radicals.

2) Rational debate on the subject is impossible within that country.

3) Even the mention of legislation to limit its power is categorically taboo.

You'll see where I'm going: in America the fetish is guns, in the UK it's deranged people wearing crowns, and in Germany? The autobahn.

Last week, Sigmar Gabriel, chairman of the centre-left Social Democratic Party - a man who should know better - veered onto the hard shoulder of Germany's obsession with their beautiful concrete strips.

As a casual aside in an interview with the Rheinische Post newspaper, an interview that was mainly about the joint SPD-Green tax programme, Gabriel mentioned that he agreed with the Green party's long-held policy of introducing a 120 kph (75 mph) speed limit on German motorways.

"The rest of the world has been doing the same for a long time," he reasoned. "I think a 120 limit makes sense, because the accident statistics show that the number of serious accidents and deaths sink."

Reasonable enough, no? Apparently not. The reaction was immediate. It was as if Gabriel had suddenly become radioactive. Transport Minister Peter Ramsauer was adamant. "There won't be a general speed limit on my watch," he told Der Spiegel. "Our motorways are among the safest roads we have. The worst accidents happen on country roads: around 60 percent of deaths, the latest traffic statistics say."

More tellingly, Peer Steinbrück, the SPD's own lead candidate in September's general election, immediately began the damage limitation, as he watched votes flutter away like sweet-wrappers from the car window. "This is a debate that I've known about for over 20 years," he told state broadcaster WDR. "I have no intention of re-activating this debate now."

Steinbrück had every reason to be exasperated with his party colleague - Gabriel had gone rogue, veering off the SPD's election programme that had been unanimously agreed at the party conference in Augsburg in April. The last thing the struggling Social Democrats needed was for their notoriously unguarded chairman to draw fire with an unpopular issue.

But the fact is that Gabriel is clearly on the right side of reason on this one. Ramsauer's argument is at the same level of fatuous logic as the "guns don't kill people, people kill people" twaddle that Europeans like to mock so much. The traffic statistic the minister didn't point out, for instance, was that there are 28 percent more deaths on the stretches of autobahn that don't have a speed limit as those that do.

If that wasn't reason enough for a speed limit - and surely it should be more than enough - there are also countless environmental benefits. As long as car manufacturers, for instance, have reason to believe that people want to buy cars that can do 300 kph, obviously they will fill the market with powerful, fuel-guzzling engines whose full power can hardly ever be used. It's obviously time Germany got over its high-speed fetish.

But no, once again, the debate is being poisoned by a dishonest appeal to "freedom." Well, if it's freedom you want, I have a better idea: Why not get rid of those annoying traffic lights and those pesky white lines that divide up roads? Then people can finally drive wherever the hell they want.

Ben Knight

ben.knight@thelocal.com

Ben Knight on Twitter

The Local (news@thelocal.de)

Don't miss...X
Left Right

Your comments about this article

Today's headlines
The Local List
10 things to do before summer is really over
Photo: DPA

10 things to do before summer is really over

The German weather service (DWD) is blaming "Wild Wilma" for blanketing the country in cooler temperatures, but we know it's going to get a lot colder before the end of summer. This week's Local List challenges you to take advantage before autumn really sets in. READ  

Energy policy falls foul of federal auditors
Lightning illuminates the sky above a wind turbine. Photo: DPA

Energy policy falls foul of federal auditors

The Federal Court of Auditors has sharply criticized Chancellor Angela Merkel's energy policy, saying that the previous coalition government failed to produce adequate financial plans. READ  

China to execute German for double murder
A court in Xiamen ordered the German's death sentence after three years. Photo: DPA

China to execute German for double murder

A German man has been condemned to death in China for murdering his ex-girlfriend and her partner in a frenzied attack, it was reported on Wednesday. READ  

German aid planes to Iraq delayed
All filled up and nowhere to go. Photo: DPA

German aid planes to Iraq delayed

A German military flight to the conflict-addled region in northern Iraq has been delayed because Turkey denied landing permission for the layover at Incirlik airbase, according to a spokesman for the air force. READ  

Bomb shuts down A3 motorway
Photo: DPA

Bomb shuts down A3 motorway

A controlled detonation of a 500-kg bomb from the Second World War has left a 20-metre-wide crater in the middle of one of Germany's busiest traffic corridors on Tuesday night. READ  

Saxony schools get top marks
Photo: DPA

Saxony schools get top marks

A country-wide analysis has shown that Saxony has the best schools and Berlin has a lot of homework to do. READ  

Police free hedgehog, natural order restored
Pot luck for the Offenburg hedgehog. Photo: DPA

Police free hedgehog, natural order restored

Officers patrolling in Baden-Württemberg were confronted by a self-imprisoned hedgehog. READ  

BER capacity already 'too small' at 2016 launch
Overdue, overgrown. BER site stands idle amid delays. Photo: DPA

BER capacity already 'too small' at 2016 launch

The delay-hobbled Berlin Brandenburg Airport (BER) will already be overburdened when - or if - it opens in 2016 as passenger volume exceeds initial forecasts, it was reported on Tuesday. READ  

Stomach bug behind Berlin 'Ebola' scare
A doctor at the Job Centre in Berlin. Photo:DPA

Stomach bug behind Berlin 'Ebola' scare

Update: Around 600 people were held for several hours in emergency quarantine at a Berlin Job Centre on Tuesday after a West African woman collapsed with Ebola-like symptoms. READ  

Opinion
Tribes, ties and a movie: A German's Afghan life
Matthias Kock spent several years learning the Afghan ropes. Photo: Matthias Kock

Tribes, ties and a movie: A German's Afghan life

After more than 3,400 foreign troops died in Afghanistan, 54 of them German, the international community in 2014 withdraws its combat forces to end a 13-year mission. Aid worker and ex-soldier Matthias Kock reflects on lessons learned and where the country is headed. READ  

RECEIVE OUR NEWSLETTER AND ALERTS
Culture
Sprechen Sie Deutsch? 10 reasons why you should.
Photo: DPA
National
Berlin's senate puts the brakes on Über
Photo: DPA
Gallery
The mysteries of Berlin's abandoned theme park
Photo: DPA
Culture
How I deal with my German Hausmeister
Photo: Ingrid Eulenfan/flickr
Gallery
Nine German treats you'll want to eat right now (and one you won't)
Photo: DPA
Society
Who's getting German citizenship?
Photo: DPA
Culture
How World War I changed Germany forever
Photo: APA/DPA
Gallery
The 12 best words in Austrian German
Photo: DPA
Society
'Look at those German shanty towns!'
Photo: Europeana.de 1914 - 1918
Gallery
A German soldier's life behind WWI lines
Education
Raising the bar for law & business in Germany
Photo: DPA
Business & Money
JobTalk: All you need to know about working in Germany
Photo: DPA
Features
The Local List Archive - Your guide to all things German
National
Share news tips with The Local Germany
Sponsored Article
Bilingual school turning education on its head
Latest news from The Local in Austria

More news from Austria at thelocal.at

Latest news from The Local in Switzerland

More news from Switzerland at thelocal.ch

Latest news from The Local in Denmark

More news from Denmark at thelocal.dk

Latest news from The Local in Spain

More news from Spain at thelocal.es

Latest news from The Local in France

More news from France at thelocal.fr

Latest news from The Local in Italy

More news from Italy at thelocal.it

Latest news from The Local in Norway

More news from Norway at thelocal.no

Latest news from The Local in Sweden

More news from Sweden at thelocal.se

3,318
jobs available
Toytown Germany
Germany's English-speaking crowd