Germany’s autobahn which began in the 1930’s is the highway built for vehicular traffic only. Germany has a rather complicated history with their love of roads and cars. It was the Nazi dictator Hitler who advocated for multiple laned highways crisscrossing the country. Karl Benz developed the first car here, and vehicles are a cultural way of life.
The autobahn does have speed limits on one-third of its 8,000 miles . Those speed limits are near city centres and also reduce speeds for safety reasons on certain sections. The rest of the autobahn has no speed limits. But you never hear from autobahn limitless speed supporters that “The number of deadly accidents on stretches of autobahn that have a speed limit is 26 percent lower than on those without.”
As The New York Times writer Katrin Bennhold writes Germany has extremely high carbon emissions which could be lowered if speed limits were imposed on sections of the autobahn with no regulation. The speed limits would also have the secondary benefit of saving lives too, as lower speeds means higher survival rates in crashes. But when a governmental commission suggested limiting speed, opponents somehow tied in speed limits with nationalism. Even the transport minister lost the fact that it was his department trying to lower automobile emissions when he came out and stated that “A highway speed limit was “contrary to every common sense”.
Bennhold notes that “the German aversion to speed limits on the autobahn is up there with gun control in America and whaling in Japan.” The rest of the world has gone ahead and accepted speed limits as a way to enhance safety and also deal with automobile emissions (Afghanistan and the Isle of Man are exceptions).
While highway speed limits of 120 kilometers an hour on the autobahn would cover “a fifth of the gap to reach the 2020 climate goals” and would be a measure that would cost nothing and save lives, it has not been well received. Close to fifty percent of Germans oppose speed limits, and that number has not changed in the last decade. As for safety, 490 people died on the autobahn in 2017, with half of those deaths directly attributed to speeding.
Even though posting speed limits are the right thing to do to meet climate change goals and to save lives, Germany is not ready. Former U.S. ambassador John Kornblum observed“ It’s all about freedom. In that sense it really is like gun control, albeit with far fewer deaths. All the rational arguments are there, but there is barely any point in having a rational debate.”