Autobahn speed limits becoming a ‘fetish’, says German Transport Minister

Autobahn speed limits becoming a 'fetish', says German Transport Minister
New speed limits signs along the Dutch federal motorway. Proponents of a speed limit point to the lower number of accidents in Germany's neighbouring countries. Photo: picture alliance/dpa/ANP | Wilbert Bijzitter
The fierce debate over whether to impose a speed limit on the German Autobahn has continued, with Federal Transport Minister Andreas Scheuer drawing a clear line of defence for the upcoming election campaign.

“The argument for a general speed limit is a political instrument of war, for some even a fetish,” the Christian Democratic Union (CDU) politician told DPA. 

“When making a choice, citizens can decide whether they want freedom of mobility – or restrictions and bans. And the Greens are firmly in the latter camp.”

In the run-up to the September 26th election, the spectre of an Autobahn speed limit – which has been a long-standing debate in Germany – has once again reared its head, with the Green Party, the Social Democratic Party and the Left Party all speaking in favour of it.

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The German Autobahn is the only stretch of motorway in Europe without a general speed limit, though maximum speeds of 130km (80 miles) per hour are recommended.

A speed limit ‘increases safety’ 

Proponents of a speed limit, such as environmental protection organisation Deutsche Umwelthilfe, argue that in order to achieve the climate targets for 2030, Germany must make substantial savings in CO2 emissions, especially in traffic.

According to them, the measure with the highest potential for savings is a speed limit of 120km per hour – equivalent to just under 75 miles per hour – on motorways such as the Autobahn, 80 km (around 50 miles) per hour outside the city and 30km (around 18 miles) per hour in town.

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

In addition, a speed limit would massively increase road safety and lead to fewer accidents, they claim.

“A speed limit doesn’t cost us consumers a cent – and it increases safety on our roads,” Deutsche Umwelthilfe say on their campaign website.

“More than 400 people die every year on German Autobahns alone, many of them from driving too fast. And with three deaths per 100 kilometres of motorway every year, we are above the values in our neighbouring countries.”


Andreas Scheuer (CSU) claims the general speed limit has become “a political instrument of war.” Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Kay Nietfeld

But Scheuer was firm that a speed limit would have little impact on safety.

“The German Autobahns are the safest roads in the world,” he told DPA. “We tend to have problems with road safety on country roads, that is what our focus must be.”

READ ALSO: Do Germany’s autobahn speed limits save lives (and the planet) or are they overhyped?

‘We rely on innovation’ 

CDU leader and chancellor candidate Armin Laschet has also spoken out against an Autobahn speed-limit in recent weeks, suggesting that innovation rather than new laws would be the answer to the climate crisis.

“Why should an electric vehicle that doesn’t cause CO2 emissions not be allowed to drive faster than 130? That is illogical,” he told the German Editorial Network.

The pro-business Free Democratic Party (FDP) have also rejected the idea of the speed limit. 

“We rely on innovation, rationality and freedom,” they say in their campaign manifesto. “A speed limit is neither progressive nor sustainable.”

In his interview with the DPA, Scheuer echoed this view, pointing to developments in intelligent and autonomous cars, which he said would bring the speed limit down anyway.

However, some proponents of the speed limit have pointed out that the proportion of fully electric cars in Germany remains minute in comparison with the number of less environmentally friendly cars on the road.

According to transport expert Giulio Mattioli, just 0.6 percent of cars on German roads are completely electric.

Vocabulary 

Speed limit – (das) Tempolimit

Road safety – (die) Verkehrssicherheit

Transport Minister – (der/die) Verkehrsminister(in) 

Parliamentary election campaign – (der) Bundestagswahlkampf

We’re aiming to help our readers improve their German by translating vocabulary from some of our news stories. Did you find this article useful? Let us know.


Member comments

  1. One has only to drive in the UK to discover the very dangerous distraction of continual speed camera monitoring. The driver is spending more time concerned about his or her speed, looking at the speedometer then actually being alert to the traffic.
    In Germany the traffic flows, to my mind, better than in anywhere where limits to speed are enforced. The driver concentrates upon driving and is not distracted.
    Yes, there are some that truly speed but from my experience they do not present a danger and by the way, checking your rear view mirrors every few seconds is an exercise we should all practise.
    I feel treated like an adult on German autobahns as opposed to the ‘Nanny State’ of the UK where I am treated like an errant child.

  2. The argument about electric vehicles not being limited is ridiculous. The faster you drive, the less mileage achievable and therefore the more frequent the need for recharging and the associated CO2 costs of the recharge. Speed doesn’t necessarily kill. It’s the inappropriate use of speed, the lack of awareness & anticipation and the aggressive nature of many drivers. The argument for unlimited speed is similar to that in the US for continued gun use. The RIGHT to drive at any speed limit is crazy. As a policeman once told me “it’s a LIMIT, not a TARGET.”

  3. Have to laugh a bit when this guy Andreas Scheuer talks about tempolimit as an attack on freedom. If you want to go down that route, there are scores of ways freedom is restricted in Germany. Right down to where you are supposed to deposit your litter. There is always selectivity as to when and where freedom is regulated.

    I know the speed limit freedom lobby like to argue that the road safety record on autobahns is good, even where there is no speed limit. However, I admit to feeling unnerved when I’m overtaken by some BMW hitting 180ks or more. It means you need to keep checking your rear mirror every 3-4 seconds, as when you don’t, you can have an unpleasant shock, even when you were not planning to move lanes.
    I’m a bit sceptical that speed is not a factor in many autobahn accidents. When a car is travelling at high speed, the driver has virtually no time to take evasive action, if the unexpected happens, and the unexpected frequently happens on all roads.

    I remember a woman once telling me she’d rather have an accident at 200ks than 100, as she’d rather be killed outright than be half injured!

  4. I would be happy to have a speed limit if it was made consistent. There’s a section outside of Munich miracles within about 5 km from 80 to unlimited to 100 to to unlimited it’s extremely annoying.

    Other countries have a flat limit of 130 unless it’s in construction I think that would be very helpful

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