• 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
Ethiopia's Legese wins Berlin half marathon
Ethiopia's Legese (R) crosses the finish line just ahead of Kenya's Kogei. Photo: APF

Ethiopia's Legese wins Berlin half marathon

Ethiopia's Birhanu Legese won the Berlin half marathon on Sunday as African runners dominated the top ten finishers in the men's race. READ  

Spectator killed in Nürburgring crash
A section of the Nürburgring's north circuit

Spectator killed in Nürburgring crash

A man has been killed and several others injured in an accident at Germany's Nürburgring racetrack. READ  

Alps Plane Crash
Germany to hold April service for crash victims
Photo: DPA

Germany to hold April service for crash victims

Germany will hold a national memorial ceremony and service on April 17 for victims of the Germanwings flight that crashed in the French Alps, killing all 150 aboard, regional authorities said on Saturday. READ  

Scientists aiming to redefine the kilogram
The world's roundest sphere. Photo: DPA

Scientists aiming to redefine the kilogram

The German Nation Metrology Institute (PTB) in Braunschweig has set itself the enormous task of finding a new formula for measuring a kilogram. READ  

Alps Plane Crash
Germanwings co-pilot 'hid illness' on crash day
Photo: DPA

Germanwings co-pilot 'hid illness' on crash day

Germanwings said on Friday that it had no knowledge of a doctor-signed sick note found by investigators at flight 4U9525 co-pilot Andreas Lubitz's flat. READ  

Varoufakis quells rumours of resignation
Yanis Varoufakis. Photo: DPA

Varoufakis quells rumours of resignation

Update: After German tabloid Bild reported that Germany's least-favourite Greek minister Yanis Varoufakis was considering resigning, the minister rejected the story on Twitter. READ  

Germany to expand disability rights
Photo: DPA

Germany to expand disability rights

A representative of the German Labour Ministry went before a UN Committee on Friday to discuss the government's plan for improved rights for disabled people. READ  

Alps Plane Crash
Germanwings captain's compassion goes viral
Photo: DPA

Germanwings captain's compassion goes viral

A Facebook post describing how a Germanwings pilot personally reassured his passengers of their safety on a flight on Wednesday has received over quarter of a million likes. READ  

Bundestag passes 'foreigner toll' for roads
Photo: DPA

Bundestag passes 'foreigner toll' for roads

The Bundestag (German parliament) passed a hugely controversial law on Friday which will charge foreigners for the use of German roads. READ  

Alps Plane Crash
Airlines agree two-person cockpit rule
Photo: DPA

Airlines agree two-person cockpit rule

The Federation of the German Air Travel Industry (BDL) confirmed on Friday afternoon that from now on two people must be in the cockpit at all times, in a bid to avoid a repeat of the Germanwings disaster. READ  

RECEIVE OUR NEWSLETTER AND ALERTS
Can the 'nightmare' of a pilot downing a plane be prevented?
National
LIVE: Co-pilot suspected of crashing plane
Pupils mourn lost classmates
National
Freed after 25 years on death row
National
Cologne Cathedral returns from space
Sponsored Article
What expat parents should ask before choosing a school
Features
Paddy's Day, Berlin style
Is your workload 'out of control'? You're not alone...
National
Why east Germans are happy to get it on on camera
National
What would you do with a 250-year-old pretzel?
Features
Just why is the German flag Schwarz, Rot, Gold?
Business & Money
Getting German workers and bosses thinking positive
National
Uplifting thoughts to get you through the last week of winter
National
Who wants the Olympics more - Hamburg or Berlin?
National
Last-minute drama of Germany's Eurovision 2015 entry
National
German photographer takes world's top prize
Features
Meet the woman getting Germans to drink more – and better – beer
Gallery
Get inspired for International Women's Day with German heroes
Sponsored Article
Expert US tax preparation for Americans in Germany
Green party proposes first-ever cannabis legalization plan
Gallery
In pictures: Germany's seven most livable cities
National
Singapore canes Germans for train graffiti
Politics
Surprise! Germans love feeling like they run the EU
Politics
Anger over plan to show women what men earn
Travel
Munich tram fans bicker over new bell
Features
Kafka: puzzling translators 100 years on
Business & Money
France or Germany: Which country really is the best country to work in?
Photo: Police
Rhineland
Student driver crashes tank into family garden.
Photo: DPA
Politics
There was a notable absence at the Anti-Semitism Commission
National
How Dresden bombing still divides Germany, 70 years on
Photo: DPA
Gallery
Take a cute break with this gallery of baby animals
International
What's keeping UK expats from voting?
Photo: DPA
National
Terror alert at a new high. Should you be worried?
Gallery
The best regional foods TTIP opponents want to protect
Photo: DPA
Features
All you ever needed to know about Pegida
Photo: Shutterstock
Culture
This cosplayer did not think his plan through
National
Europe in statistics - from Spain to Sweden
Gallery
Top 12 German idioms
Culture
10 top tips for partying in Germany
Photo: DPA
Technology
What does the Chancellor see as the future of the internet?
Photo: DPA
Business & Money
JobTalk: All you need to know about working in Germany
National
Share news tips with The Local Germany
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

7,156
jobs available
Toytown Germany
Germany's English-speaking crowd