Germany ‘doesn’t have enough signs’ for Autobahn speed limit, says minister

Campaigners have been pushing for a temporary general speed limit on Germany's Autobahn to ease the dependence on Russian gas - but the Transport Minister says there aren't enough signs to do that.

A 130km per hour speed limit sign on Germany's Autobahn.
A 130km per hour speed limit sign on Germany's Autobahn. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Thomas Frey

A row over whether Germany should enforce a 130km per hour (80mph) speed limit on the sections of the German Autobahn where people can drive as fast as they want has been brewing for many years.

It was reignited recently by politicians and campaigners who say a Tempolimit is another measure to help Germany cut down on Russian gas as it tries to move away from relying on energy from President Vladimir Putin.

But Transport Minister Volker Wissing, who belongs to the Free Democrats (FDP), has spoken out against introducing a speed limit – partly because he believes there aren’t enough information signs in stock. 

In an interview with the Hamburger Morgenpost, Wissing said a speed limit in Germany is “extremely controversial” and “also divides society very strongly”. 

He also pointed to the “considerable effort” that introducing a general speed limit for a restricted time on the German Autobahn system would cause.

“You would have to put up appropriate signs if you do it for three months, and then take them down again,” he said. “We don’t even have that many signs in stock.”

The German Autobahn is the only stretch of motorway in Europe where many sections don’t have a speed limit, although maximum speeds of 130km per hour are recommended.

READ ALSO: Eight things you never knew about the German Autobahn

Transport Minister Volker Wissing speaks at a press conference in Berlin on April 5th.

Transport Minister Volker Wissing speaks at a press conference in Berlin on April 5th. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Bernd von Jutrczenka

The statement is reminiscent of German health insurance companies’ argument recently that there wasn’t enough paper to introduce a vaccine mandate.

Some people poked fun at the similarities on Twitter. 

‘Quick impact’

The response came after Green Party leader Ricarda Lang called for a temporary speed limit at the weekend. 

She told the Redaktionsnetzwerk Deutschland (RND) it was a measure that would have a quick impact, saying that “we need a temporary speed limit on motorways now – for example for nine months and thus until the end of the year, which is the time when we want to become independent of Russian oil at the latest”.

READ ALSO: Speed limits and home office: How Germany could reduce its oil consumption

In general, pro-speed limit campaigners believe a speed limit would limit CO2 emissions and make roads safer. 

But critics say a speed limit would infringe on people’s right to drive fast – and that the roads in Germany are already safe. 

Social Democrat MP Sebastian Roloff told Handelsblatt that there were very good arguments for a speed limit.

“For example, it saves energy in a very simple way,” he said, adding that a majority of people in Germany were in favour of the measure.

“Therefore, we should implement it quickly now,” he said.

The Chief Executive of the German Association of Cities and Towns, Helmut Dedy, recently stressed that more attention needed to be paid to the consumption of energy.

“That’s why we are arguing for a speed limit to be considered now,” he said. “This would allow us to immediately raise a savings potential.”

The FDP, however, stands by its strict rejection of a Tempolimit, which was one of its dealbreakers when entering into a coalition with the Social Democrats and Greens last year.

READ ALSO: German Autobahns remain speeders’ paradise as parties rule out speed limits

Parliamentary state secretary in the Transport Ministry, Daniela Kluckert (FDP), stressed that a speed limit on motorways had not been agreed in the coalition agreement, adding: “This decision stands.”

Member comments

  1. Why would they have enough signs to post a new limit, it would be very odd if they did. But i bet if you order them they will magically appear…..

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German state environment ministers push for Autobahn speed limit

Environment ministers in Germany's 16 states want to see a temporary Autobahn speed limit to help cut down reliance on Russian gas.

German state environment ministers push for Autobahn speed limit

Calls have been growing for a temporary speed limit or Tempolimit on Germany’s Autobahn network to further reduce dependency on Russia’s energy amid the war on Ukraine.

But the move has seen severe pushback from some politicians – in particular the Free Democrats (FDP).

On Friday, German media site Spiegel reported that the Conference of Environment Ministers had come out in favour of a temporary speed limit on the Autobahn, which is the only stretch of motorway in Europe where people can drive as fast as they want in many sections.

It’s a significant move given that the issue is so contentious in Germany. 

Spiegel said that the ministers agreed a resolution on Friday to introduce a temporary nationwide speed limit. However, they did not specify what the maximum speed should be.

The Greens have campaigned for a number of years to impose a 130km/h (around 80 mph) limit on German motorways – but the party had to abandon this electoral promise last year during coalition negotiations to keep the freedom-loving FDP from walking.

According to environment ministers in the states, a general speed limit should be introduced as a “cost-effective, quickly to implement, and immediately effective measure” so that Germany consumes less petrol and diesel, and becomes less dependent on oil imports.

READ ALSO: Could Germany introduce an Autobahn speed limit?

At the same time, the step would help protect the climate, keep the air clean, reduce noise and make roads safer, they said. The speed limit could “initially be introduced for a limited period during the ongoing conflict”, the resolution said in reference to the war in Ukraine. In the long term, the focus is on the expansion of electric mobility and local public transport.

“I think it is absolutely right that we set a visible sign,” Lower Saxony’s environment minister Olaf Lies (SPD), chair of the conference, told Spiegel. “We did not have an ideological debate.”

Rather, he said, it was about a pragmatic response to the supply crisis because of the war.

The move was backed by all states. The environment ministers in Bavaria (Thorsten Glauber, Free Voters) and North Rhine-Westphalia (Lutz Lienenkämper, CDU) voted in favour, but issued a note stating that they only expect a speed limit to have a limited effect.

In the other 14 states, the ministries are led by the Greens or the SPD.

The federal states can’t implement the decision on their own – this would require a federal law.

“Now it’s the federal government’s turn,” tweeted Hesse environment minister Priska Hinz (Greens). 

So far, none of the states has announced an initiative in the Bundesrat, the parliament that represents the states – but they are sending a strong message to the federal government.