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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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ENERGY

EXPLAINED: What are Germany’s alternatives to Russian gas?

With the country facing an energy crisis this winter after Russia cut natural gas deliveries, we look at what alternatives Germany has and how clean they are.

EXPLAINED: What are Germany's alternatives to Russian gas?

Even as a country with a strong environmental tradition, Germany is set to struggle this winter as it searches for green alternatives to Russian gas for both its heating and electricity needs.

Around half of German households use natural gas for heat and, with Russia having cut supplies by 80 percent, the average household is now looking at having to pay more than €500 a year extra for natural gas starting from October.

Experts are warning of a “winter of rage” characterised by protests and even riots. The gas levy, in which German gas suppliers are passing on a hike of 2.419 cents per kilowatt hour to consumers, has the federal government looking at ways to ease the burden – including possibly scrapping VAT on the levy.

Though gas use is down 14 percent so far this year, with Germans taking shorter, colder showers, and cities like Berlin and Cologne turning the lights off on some of their most famous landmarks at night, the real test will come this winter. 

So what alternatives does Germany have to Russian gas?

READ ALSO: EXPLAINED: How much will Germany’s gas levy cost you?

Renewables

Already, nearly half of all electricity produced in Germany comes from renewables, particularly solar power, after large investments in capacity from 2009 to 2012.

German economist Christian Odendahl argues that this figure would probably be higher today if those investments had continued.

“During sunny days like today, renewables would probably generate 100% of our power,” he tweeted.

At the same time, less than 20 percent of the energy Germans are actually consuming currently comes from renewables. Meanwhile, gas makes up 27 percent of the energy Germans actually use. Despite the increased renewable capacity – there’s still a long way to go before it will be able to replace gas.

READ ALSO: How Germany is saving energy ahead of uncertain winter?

Nuclear Energy

Germany’s current energy crisis has moved German politicians and public opinion towards something previously unthinkable: more support for nuclear energy. 41 percent of Germans are now in favour of long-term nuclear energy use.

Over three-quarters want to continue using it for at least a little while longer, while only 15 percent want to shut down the country’s three remaining nuclear power plants by the end of the year.

Opposition to nuclear energy is one of the reasons the German Green party – currently a member of the traffic light coalition government – was originally founded and gained popularity. The move to shut down nuclear power in Germany by the end of 2022 has found wide public and political support for decades, with opinion polling shifting only recently.

The government is currently debating whether to extend the life of existing nuclear power plants beyond the end of this year.

Alternative natural gas and coal

On a trip to Norway this week, Chancellor Olaf Scholz thanked the Scandinavian country for increasing its gas deliveries to Germany by about 10 percent – amidst warnings that Norway was already sending Germany about as much as it could deliver.

At the same time, work has begun on five temporary terminals for importing liquefied natural gas (LNG) on ships from gas-producing countries like the United States and Qatar. Some of the temporary terminals, which are located in Wilhelmshaven, Brunsbüttel, Stade, and Lubmin on the northern German coast, could be finished as early as the end of this year.

There are also plans to start construction on two permanent terminals at Wilhelmshaven and Brunsbüttel before the end of this year.

Environmental groups, however, are already protesting against the construction of the terminals.

At the same time, German coal plants resumed operations in early August, amidst concerns both moves could put Germany’s climate goals in jeopardy.

READ ALSO: Could Germany’s gas supplies last the winter?

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