• Germany's news in English
 

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

Published: 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)

Your comments about this article

Today's headlines
Bayern fans bring club's earliest years to light
FC Bayern's first team in 1925, the year of the commemorative publication. Photo: Jewish Museum

Bayern fans bring club's earliest years to light

For decades the early history of FC Bayern München was forgotten, but FCB fans have re-discovered a book from 1925 documenting the club's founding moments. READ  

Top spy admits: We're 'dependent' on NSA
Gerhard Schindler admitted that the BND had made mistakes in its handling of NSA requests. Photo: DPA

Top spy admits: We're 'dependent' on NSA

The head of the German Intelligence Agency (BND) told a special parliamentary committee on Thursday that his agency is 'dependent on' the American National Security Agency (NSA). READ  

Autobahn driver suffers drone windscreen smash
Photo: Polizei Bochum

Autobahn driver suffers drone windscreen smash

After a low flying drone crashed into the windscreen of a car on the Autobahn outside Bochum, police announced on Thursday they are looking for witnesses. READ  

Business confidence slack as growth slows
A worker puts the finishing touches to BMWs at the car producer's Regensburg, Bavaria production line. Photo: DPA

Business confidence slack as growth slows

German business confidence slipped fractionally from its previous high level in May, as the upturn in Europe's biggest economy continues, the Ifo economic institute said Friday. READ  

Two criminals on the run after daylight escape
Two fugitives on the run since Thursday. Photo: Polizei Kleve

Two criminals on the run after daylight escape

Police are searching for two fugitives in North Rhine-Westphalia after a young woman freed a man from custody as he was being taken to the doctor. READ  

Merkel pushes for Greece deal at Euro meet
Angela Merkel with Francois Hollande and Alexis Tsipras in Riga. Photo: DPA

Merkel pushes for Greece deal at Euro meet

Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras held "friendly and constructive" debt talks with the leaders of France and Germany Thursday, but gave no sign of a breakthrough ahead of a crucial June deadline. READ  

Wage disparity drives up inequality in Germany
A man begs on the street in Hamburg. Photo: DPA.

Wage disparity drives up inequality in Germany

A report on Thursday showed that while the gap between rich and poor has somewhat stabilized in Germany since the economic crisis, the rich and highly educated continue to gain more while the poor struggle, creating some of the biggest wealth gaps among developed countries. READ  

This week in history
Home-grown terrorists stand trial in Stuttgart
The trial took place in a specially built courtroom. Photo: DPA

Home-grown terrorists stand trial in Stuttgart

Forty years ago, on May 21 1975, a trial began in Stuttgart against the leaders of the Red Army Faction (RAF), a Marxist organisation which began an underground war against the Federal Republic five years earlier. READ  

Minimum wage threatens Germany's fave pickles
The wonderful world of gherkins. Photo: DPA

Minimum wage threatens Germany's fave pickles

Vegetable farmers in Brandenburg are worried about the future of the famous Spreewald gherkins, as the new national minimum wage has driven prices up. READ  

Police seize tiny lamb from Munich brothel
Photo: Polizei Bayern

Police seize tiny lamb from Munich brothel

Police in Munich raided a brothel after it was reported that a prostitute there possessed contraband. During their search they found marijuana, other narcotics... and a three-week-old lamb. READ  

RECEIVE OUR NEWSLETTER AND ALERTS
Travel
Why the train strike is bad for passengers and workers
National
Meet Germany's Eurovision hope
Business & Money
Is 2015 a new moment for jobsharing?
Features
How the LGBT rights movement was born in Germany
National
Why you don't make bomb jokes at the airport
National
Why Germany needs a little less tipple
National
Who Germans and Americans trust... and don't
Politics
What the UK election means for Germany
National
Why Germany is great for mums
Features
The Germans with GI dads
Five ways Germany falls short on gay rights
Travel
Giant tortoise found riding Munich rail
National
FCK CPS? A-OK with court
Politics
Opinion: Brexit's dangers for Germany
Features
Smart kids all want to work for BMW
National
Minister shows off top Denglisch
National
Germany's 'other genocide' in Africa
National
Arms firms get a 'must do better' mark on ethics
Sport
Bayern's anticlimactic 25th Bundesliga win
Politics
A Greek learning politics in Germany
Features
The battle of the "Gates of Berlin"
National
Germany's 'very poor' lobbying record
National
Germany's favourite baby names of 2014
Politics
Merkel's 15 years at the top of German politics
Travel
Lowest of the low: how woman exploited Germanwings crash
Features
Spice up asparagus season with The Local's serving suggestions
Sport
Football and the €30,000 firework
Technology
Why scientists oppose killer robots
National
'Cannibal cop' gets 8 years
National
Which city is Germany's worst for drivers?
Technology
Electrifying 'Ostalgia'
National
Cologne Cathedral returns from space
Pupils mourn lost classmates
National
Freed after 25 years on death row
Shutterstock
Sponsored Article
10 things you didn’t know about Zagreb (and why you should go)
Is your workload 'out of control'? You're not alone...
Sponsored Article
What expat parents should ask before choosing a school
Features
Paddy's Day, Berlin style
National
Why east Germans are happy to get it on on camera
National
Uplifting thoughts to get you through the last week of winter
National
What would you do with a 250-year-old pretzel?
National
Who wants the Olympics more - Hamburg or Berlin?
Features
Just why is the German flag Schwarz, Rot, Gold?
Business & Money
Getting German workers and bosses thinking positive
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

6,780
jobs available
Toytown Germany
Germany's English-speaking crowd