Majority of public back Autobahn speed limit

A new survey published on Thursday shows that a majority of Germans are in favour of speed limits on the Autobahn – the country's highways which until now have been famously limit-free.

Majority of public back Autobahn speed limit
File photo: DPA

The number of countries with no nationwide speed limit on highways is vanishingly small. Other members of the club besides Germany include Afghanistan, North Korea, and the Isle of Man, a British dependency in the Irish sea.

Now pollsters from YouGov have found that 56 percent of the public would be in favour of a nationwide speed limit of 150 km/h on Germany's 12,950 kilometres of motorway – but that lower limits were still out of the question.

Just 40 percent would support a limit of 130 kmh/h – the same as France – while a tiny 11 percent would be OK with national limits of 100 km/h, just under the British national limit of 70 mph (112 km/h).

Across the Autobahn network, many stretches already have a speed limit – and there's a 'suggested' speed of 130 km/h across the network.

Police patrols may also pull over the especially speedy if they're driving too fast for the conditions.

Motorists say it's a no-go

But motorists' organization ADAC rejects the idea of a nationwide limit.

“In our opinion, we don't think it would be safer,” ADAC spokesman Andreas Hölzel told The Local.

“If you look at international comparisons, Germany – with no generalized speed limit – performs just as well on safety.

“Britain is a bit better, but France, Belgium, the USA and Japan all have worse accident rates.”

In fact, the YouGov results showed that only 48 percent of the general public believed that a speed limit would make the Autobahn safer.

Under a road safety programme launched by the federal government in 2011, the number of people killed on the Autobahn fell 17 percent by 2014 to 375.

Conditional speed limits

Hölzel said that an annual survey of ADAC'S 19 million members consistently showed a majority against national speed limits, with 65 percent saying they were against the idea in last year's poll.

He added that “we're not against having any speed limits at all, but we're against one that covers the whole country.

Cars driving through fog on the A7 Autobahn near Rendsburg, Schleswig-Holstein. Photo: DPA

“They can make sense under certain conditions, like when there's snow or fog, [or] when there's large volumes of traffic.”

Older people want to go slow

YouGov pointed out that older drivers were much more likely to be in favour of one of the lower speed limit options.

An older driver climbs into his vehicle. File photo: DPA

Half of over-55s said that they would support a 130 km/h nationwide limit, compared with just over a third of 18- to 24-year-olds.

The YouGov poll covered a representative sample of 1,198 people in Germany, who were interviewed between October 9th and 13th 2015.

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COMPARE: Which countries in Europe have the strictest drink-drive limits?

Certain countries around Europe have stricter policies than others regarding drinking and driving and harsher punishments for those caught exceeding legal limits. Here's what you need to know.

COMPARE: Which countries in Europe have the strictest drink-drive limits?

European countries set their own driving laws and speed limits and it’s no different when it comes to legal drink-drive limits.

While the safest thing to do of course, is to drink no alcohol at all before driving it is useful to know what the limit is in the country you are driving in whether as a tourist or as someone who frequently crosses European borders by car for work.

While some countries, such as the Czech Republic, have zero tolerance for drinking and driving, in others people are allowed to have a certain amount of alcohol in their blood while driving.

However, not only can the rules be different between countries, they are usually stricter for commercial (or bus) drivers and novice drivers as well. Besides that, the blood alcohol concentration (BAC) is extremely difficult to estimate, so the old “one beer is ok” standards no longer safely apply.

In the end, the only way to be safe is to avoid consuming alcohol before driving. Any amount will slow reflexes while giving you dangerous higher confidence. According to the UK’s National Health Service, there is no ‘safe’ drinking level.

How is blood alcohol level measured?

European countries mostly measure blood alcohol concentration (BAC), which is the amount, in grams, of alcohol in one litre of blood.

After alcohol is consumed, it will be absorbed fast from the stomach and intestine to the bloodstream. There, it is broken down by a liver-produced enzyme.

Each person will absorb alcohol at their own speed, and the enzyme will also work differently in each one.

The BAC will depend on these metabolic particularities as well as body weight, gender, how fast and how much the person drank, their age and whether or not (and how much) they have eaten, and even stress levels at the time.

In other words there are many things that may influence the alcohol concentration.

The only way to effectively measure BAC is by taking a blood test – even a breathalyser test could show different results. Still, this is the measuring unit used by many EU countries when deciding on drinking limits and penalties for drivers.

Here are the latest rules and limits.

Austria, Denmark, France, Germany, Italy, Spain, Switzerland, Greece, Netherlands, Belgium, Portugal, and Croatia

In most EU countries, the limit is just under 0.5g/l for standard drivers (stricter rules could be in place for novice or professional drivers).

This could be exceeded by a man with average weight who consumed one pint of beer (containing 4.2% alcohol) and two glasses of red wine (13% alcohol) while having dinner.

If a person is caught driving with more than 0.8g/l of blood alcohol content in Austria, they can pay fines of up to € 5,900 and to have their license taken for one year in some cases.

In France, if BAC exceeds 0.8g/l, they could end up with a 2-year jail sentence and a € 4,500 fine. In Germany, penalties start at a € 500 fine and a one-month license suspension. In Greece, drunk drivers could face up to years of imprisonment.

In Denmark, first time offenders are likely to have their licences suspended and could be required to go on self-paid alcohol and traffic courses if BAC levels are low. Italy has penalties that vary depending on whether or not the driver has caused an accident and could lead to car apprehension, fines and prison sentences.

In Spain, going over a 1.2g/l limit is a criminal offence that could lead to imprisonment sentences and hefty fines. 

Norway, Sweden, and Poland

In Norway, Sweden, and Poland, the limit for standard drivers is 0.2g/l. It could take a woman with average weight one standard drink, or one can of beer, to reach that level.

Penalties in Norway can start at a one month salary fine and a criminal record. In Poland, fines are expected if you surpass the limit, and you could also have your license revoked and receive a prison sentence.

Czech Republic, Hungary, and Slovakia

The Czech Republic, Hungary, and Slovakia have one of the strictest rules in the European Union. There is no allowed limit of alcohol in the blood for drivers.

In the Czech Republic, fines start at € 100 to € 800, and a driving ban of up to one year can be instituted for those driving with a 0.3 BAC level. However, the harshest penalties come if the BAC level surpasses 1 g/l, fines can be up to € 2,000, and drivers could be banned from driving for 10 years and imprisoned for up to three years.

This is intended to be a general guide and reference. Check the current and specific rules in the country you plan to travel to. The easiest and best way to be safe and protect yourself and others is to refrain from drinking alcohol and driving.