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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.

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

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. 

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DRIVING

EXPLAINED: The rules for riding an e-scooter in Germany

The popularity of electric scooters in Germany has exploded in the last few years, but many people still aren't sure what the rules for driving them are. We break them down.

EXPLAINED: The rules for riding an e-scooter in Germany

Germany is currently the world’s second-largest market for e-scooter rental after the USA, which might explain why you have the feeling that you’re seeing the electric vehicles everywhere these days, at least in cities. 

According to a recent survey by ADAC,15 percent of people in Germany aged 16 and over regularly use e-scooters. Of these, 45 percent own their own scooter, while 55 percent rent the vehicles from sharing services.

Here are the rules for driving an e-scooter that you need to know.

Who can drive an e-scooter?

Anyone over the age of 14 can ride an electric scooter and you don’t need to have a driving license to use one. However, many of the traffic rules for motorists also apply to e-scooter riders, and misbehaving on a scooter could end up costing you points on your driving license or even getting you a driving ban.

READ ALSO: Driving in Germany: Eight German road signs that confuse foreigners

Can more than one person ride an e-scooter?

No. Only one person is allowed to ride a scooter and if you are caught riding in two, you will get a €10 fine.

Although it might be fun, riding side by side on two scooters is also not allowed and can be punished with a fine of between €15 and €30. Instead, you and your friends have to ride in single file.

Where can you ride an e-scooter?

E-scooters are principally allowed on bike paths and in bike lanes and you can only drive them on the road if there is no bike lane available. If you do drive on the road, you must keep as far to the right as possible and you are not allowed to ride in bus lanes.

It’s also forbidden to ride an e-scooter on the motorway – doing so will get you a €20 fine. 

Riding an e-scooter on the pavement, in pedestrian-only zones, or in one-way streets against the direction of traffic is also not allowed and can land you a fine of between €15 and €30.

However, e-scooters are allowed on one-way or no-entry roads which have a “cyclists free” sign.

A no-entry sign with a “cyclists free” sign underneath. This sign also applies to e-scooters. Photo: picture alliance / dpa | Jens Kalaene

Which traffic light rules apply to electric scooters?

E-scooter riders have to abide by traffic lights just like motorists, and the fine for ignoring a red light on an e-scooter is between €60 and €180.

However, if there is also a traffic light for bicycles, e-scooter riders can follow this one instead.

Is there an alcohol limit for electric scooters?

Yes, the same alcohol limits for motorists apply to electric scooter riders.

This means that anyone who drives with a blood alcohol level of between 0.5 to 1.09 is liable for a fine of €500, a 1-month driving ban and 2 points on their driving license.

It’s a criminal offence to ride an electric scooter with a blood alcohol concentration of at more than 1.1, as is causing an accident with a blood alcohol level of more than 0.3.

Under 21s must be completely alcohol free – with a blood alcohol level of 0.0 – to ride an e-scooter.

Where can e-scooters be parked?

E-scooters can be parked at the roadside, on the pavement and in pedestrian zones with designated e-scooter parking areas. However, e-scooters must be parked in such a way that they don’t obstruct or endanger pedestrians or other road users. 

Parked e-scooters in Stuttgart. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Christoph Schmidt

Which rules are there for e-scooter owners?

If you’ve upgraded from renting to owning your own scooter, there are certain requirements you have to be aware of. 

Firstly, it’s mandatory to have liability insurance and a special sticker (similar to a license plate) stuck to the scooter to show that it is insured.

READ ALSO: German words you need to know: Haftpflichtversicherung

E-scooter owners also have to make sure that they have two independently working brakes and lights. 

Which other rules should I be aware of?

As with driving a car or cycling, you are not allowed to use your mobile phone while riding an e-scooter (which is pretty challenging anyway). If you’re caught doing so, you’ll get a €100 fine and a point on your driving license. 

It’s not mandatory to wear a helmet when riding an e-scooter, though it is recommended. 

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