Should Germany impose an Autobahn speed limit to fight climate change?

Should Germany impose an Autobahn speed limit to fight climate change?
Drivers speed along the A1 near Bremen. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Sina Schuldt
A fierce debate has been ignited among German politicians over whether to impose a 130km-an-hour speed limit on the Autobahn after the September elections.

The move is intended to limit the CO2 emissions caused by the famous lack of a speed limit on parts of the German motorway, as well as make roads safer. 

It would be one of the first policies that the Green Party would implement if voted into power in September’s election, joint leader Robert Habeck told regional radio station BW24 in June.

The Social Democratic Party (SPD), who have been the junior partner in the governing coalition with Merkel’s Christian Democratic Party (CDU) since 2013, have also committed to impose a speed limit if elected as the largest party this autumn.

But head of the CDU Armin Laschet – who is bidding to replace Merkel as chancellor of Germany – ruled out the idea on Monday, branding it “illogical”.

READ ALSO: How our readers feel about imposing a speed limit on Germany’s Autobahn

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“The key is to improve the technologies instead of having nonsensical debates such as the one about a general speed limit,” he told the German Editorial Network (RDN).

“Why shouldn’t an electric vehicle that does not cause CO2 emissions be allowed to drive faster than 130? That is illogical.”

 64 percent of Germans in favour of a speed limit

Germany’s Autobahn is the only stretch of European soil without a general speed limit. 

READ ALSO: The German rules of the road that are hard to get your head around

Around half of the federal motorway only has a “recommended” speed limit of 130km per hour, meaning that drivers can exceed this limit with no firm repercussions.

According to a recent poll, almost two thirds (64 percent) of Germans are in favour of changing this – meaning chancellor candidate Laschet may not be entirely in step with the electorate on this issue.

Speaking to Bild am Sonntag in June after the Greens and SPD announced their commitment to the pledge, Laschet said he didn’t believe the move would be effective at reducing emissions.

“There are few routes in Germany on which you can drive faster than 130km during the day, so that a speed limit would have relatively little effect on CO2 emissions,” he told the Sunday newspaper. 

READ ALSO: Fact check: Will a speed limit on Germany’s Autobahn be beneficial?

Writing on Twitter, transport expert Giulio Mattioli explained that the lack of of a generalised speed limit of Germany’s motorways is responsible for producing 1.9 million tonnes of CO2 each year – more than the entire annual carbon emissions of more than 50 countries.

Dealing with Laschet’s comments on the prevalence of electric cars, Mattioli further pointed out that, at present, just 0.6 percent of German cars are fully electric.

According to Hamburg’s Green Party candidate, Katharina Beck, ten percent of the CDU’s carbon emission reduction targets for transport could be met simply by imposing a speed limit of 130km on the Autobahn. 


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