• 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
'Hot Boy from Germany' wins Vietnam Idol
Image: Fremantle Media/YouTube

'Hot Boy from Germany' wins Vietnam Idol

A 22-year-old from Hanover has become the latest winner of Vietnam Idol – bagging $27,000 along with his new title. READ  

Man promises to stop coffin naps in public
If you want to rest in place while you're still alive, a car park isn't the place place to choose. Photo: DPA

Man promises to stop coffin naps in public

When a man walking his dog alerted police to the fact that a black coffin was lying in the middle of a public parking place, the cops were surprised to find someone inside. READ  

Court orders boss to pay worker for changing
Photo: Pixabay

Court orders boss to pay worker for changing

A mechanic from western Germany is set to receive €350 in back payments – after claiming he should be paid for the time he spent showering and getting dressed for work. READ  

In Pictures
Wacken festival draws metalheads of the world
A reveler at Wacken Open Air 2015. Photo: DPA

Wacken festival draws metalheads of the world

Armies of black-clad fans gathered for the world's biggest heavy metal festival between Thursday and Saturday, marking 25 years of headbanging fun in the small town of Wacken in northern Germany. READ  

Railway sunbather brings trains to a halt
Photo: DPA

Railway sunbather brings trains to a halt

A plucky sunbather brought train services in North Rhine-Westphalia to an abrupt halt at the weekend - after deciding to catch some rays on the tracks. READ  

Spiegel: Merkel wants fourth term in power
Angela Merkel. Photo: DPA

Spiegel: Merkel wants fourth term in power

According to Germany's most influential political magazine, Spiegel, Angela Merkel has decided to run for a fourth term in power and has already started talks on who will run her campaign. READ  

State leaders call for faster asylum processes
Refugees at a temporary reception centre in Baden Württemberg. Photo: DPA

State leaders call for faster asylum processes

Several state leaders called for more investment in processing asylum applications over the weekend as the backlog continues to put severe strain on current infrastructure. READ  

German sets Florida to Cuba speedboat record
Roger Klueh. Photo: Ernesto Mastrascusa / DPA

German sets Florida to Cuba speedboat record

A German businessman and power boating fanatic on Saturday broke a 57-year-old record for the fastest boat crossing between the United States and Cuba. READ  

Report: German refugee figures 'underestimated'
Migrants on a train on their way to the EU. Photo: Djordje Savic / DPA

Report: German refugee figures 'underestimated'

Germany has hosted more than 300,000 asylum seekers since the start of the year, said the daily Die Welt on Saturday, nearly 50,000 more than first thought, as Berlin prepares for a record influx of refugees in 2015. READ  

Migrant wounded in German police shooting
Photo: DPA

Migrant wounded in German police shooting

A Guinean migrant who caused a brawl in a home for asylum seekers in Germany was shot and seriously wounded by police, local media reported. READ  

RECEIVE OUR NEWSLETTER AND ALERTS
Business & Money
Start-up helps new Berliners short cut bureaucracy
National
The 1,000s of Germans massacred after the Second World War
Sport
Germany star scores own goal with PR gaffe
Features
'Women-only' parking: sensible or sexist?
Politics
Satire and reality blur in parody party's strife
National
13-year-old boy detained for trying to join Isis
Culture
Berlin restaurant serves up Greek Crisis Menu
Rhineland
Doctor on trial after woman wakes in morgue
Society
Six odd things Germans do in the summer
Sponsored Article
Outsourcing drives Apreel's Europe growth
Society
Police bust kinky Bavarian couple over painful love-making
Politics
Merkel brings Palestinian girl to tears
Hamburg
Amateur archaeologist finds Nazi gold hoard
National
Could Merkel learn a lesson in love from this doppelganger?
Travel
Why you should stay in Germany for the summer holidays
Sport
German press tell Schweinsteiger 'good riddance'
National
Hamburg gets a bouncing 100kg baby girl
Society
In North Germany, money sometimes DOES grow on trees
National
Hero mechanics stop Bavaria shooting spree
International
Denmark says that border controls are coming
National
Did hackers take control of German missile battery?
Politics
Munich gives gay pride green light
Business & Money
Berlin rent controls hit prices hard
National
Fighting to breastfeed in public without shame
Society
Ice cream for dogs 'gobbled up in one gulp'
Education
Are hotpants a feminist issue?
Rhineland
Lion cub reunited with mother
National
How the heatwave is cracking Germany's Autobahns
International
Why the French are more sympathetic to Greece than the Germans
Sponsored Article
Crans-Montana: International expat hub
Gallery
Police seize pensioner's WW2 heavy weapons haul
National
How to survive the Europe-wide heatwave
Sport
Is Schweini already out of the door at Bayern?
Politics
How German media shaped the Greece crisis
National
Car assembly robot crushes worker at Volkswagen
Rhineland
Weathermen red-faced over heatwave snow warning
Society
An eye for an eye? Mum protects child in playground with pepperspray
National
As it happened: Queen Elizabeth's final day in Germany
National
As it happened: Queen Elizabeth's second day in Germany
National
Queen Elizabeth II's first day in Germany - as it happened
National
Bus passengers tell fake racists where to get off
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

7,129
jobs available
Toytown Germany
Germany's English-speaking crowd