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Eight things you never knew about the German Autobahn

The Local Germany
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Eight things you never knew about the German Autobahn
The German Autobahn. Photo: DPA

Germany's Autobahns are the envy of the world, and are associated with one thing above all - speed. But here are eight things you never knew about the iconic German tarmac.


1. Germans always loved speed

Germany is the only country in the world where there are no speed limits on many sections of its motorway. National speed limits did once exist, but were abolished in 1952, never to return.

In the pre-war days, there were limits in place, but these were still very generous. A section of the Autobahn built between Cologne and Bonn in 1932 had a speed limit of 120 km/h - that’s 8 km/h faster than the current speed limit on Britain's motorways.

The Autobahn speed record was set in 1938, when racing car driver Rudolf Caracciola was recorded driving at 268.9 mph in a Mercedes W125.

2. The Autobahn would stretch a quarter of the way round the Earth


In its origins in 1913, the Autobahn covered a humble 20 kilometres of German territory. But it developed rapidly.

In 1929, the first car-only route opened between Düsseldorf and Opladen. Adolf Hitler invested massively and by 1939 it had reached 2,995 kilometres in length.

Reunification in 1990 saw the Autobahn jump in size to 8,800 kilometres, as eastern and western roads were joined together. It is currently a 12,950-kilometre network - more than a quarter of the circumference of the Earth.

3. You can land a plane on some sections

Sections of road served as auxiliary airstrips during the Second World War and are therefore strong enough to support the weight of an aircraft.

In general the road has been built with double the thickness of highways in other countries so as to support the weight of cars driving at super fast speeds.

4. Limiting speed is ‘recommended’

While many stretches of the Autobahn do not have a legal speed limit, there is always a recommended top speed of 130 km/h.

And be warned. If you drive over the recommended speed limit you could be held accountable for a crash, even if it was not your fault - this could lead to seriously heated arguments with your insurance company.

Near cities, junctions or in areas under construction, you will find reduced speed signs for between 90 and 120 km/h.


5. The biggest pile-up involved 100s of cars

The Autobahn has had its share of spectacular crashes, none more so that a 2009 pile-up which involved 259 cars near Hanover. Dozens of people were injured, but remarkably no one was killed.

The Verkehrsclub Deutschland (Traffic Club Germany) have campaigned for speed limits to be imposed, arguing it would save hundreds of lives each year.

6. The Autobahn is safer than US highways

While it may seem counter-intuitive, the Autobahn is safer than many motorways which have speed limits.

Whereas US interstates - with speed limits of 70 mph - have an average of 4.5 fatalities per billion kilometres travelled, the Autobahn only has a fatality rate of 2.7 per billion kilometres.

Meanwhile, only ten percent of deadly accidents on German roads occur on the Autobahn - the majority happen on country roads or within inner cities.

7. Germany puts A LOT of money into it

One probable reason for the Autobahn’s safety record is the thoroughness of German driving courses - learner drivers have to take lessons on the Autobahn.

Good road maintenance also makes them safer. Germany spends an incredible €825,000 per mile of road annually - that is double what the US invests in its highways.

8. Want speed? Head from Hamburg to Berlin

The longest section of the Autobahn that has no speed controls in between Hamburg and Berlin. Of a total route length of 237 kilometres, 150 kilometres have no speed controls - so theoretically you could drive between the two cities in under two hours.


See more details in's infographic The Autobahn Adventure.



Comments (1)

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Anonymous 2018/08/09 11:51
I find the fact that learner drivers have to take lessons on the Autobahn particularly useful. Thanks for sharing some figures and statistics about motorways in Germany, too. Surely something that many readers didn't know about.<br />

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