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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.”

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Comments

  1. Jobs today matter more than future potential temperature changes. Like in Canada or US, there is a wide gap between lofty climate words and real world actions. Apparently roughly every seventh German job is auto related. One needs to see any decision in this context from that angle, including the far more polluting diesel discussions in inner cities, a far more urgent issue to clean up than the relatively few high speed car accidents.

    Also, I doubt the stats as one can look at the stats from a km driven point of view. Unclear if it is more deadly to drive 160 km/h on an empty straight dry road than at 80 km/h in a congested area, and if you don’t the total km driven in each state I am not sure if stats show higher accident rates, per km driven.

  2. Yes, Thomas, jobs are important and the auto sector is a big element in modern state economies, but the discussion on this thread is about the relationship of speed to carbon emissions and crash fatalities. There are no lofty climate words to be found in the text just the recognition of a causal relationship between CO2 emissions, extreme weather events and rising sea levels. The CO2 drawdown solution in this case is the conversion of vehicles to electron power, simple, easy, and with focused effort accomplished within a decade. Focused due to urgency, focused and managed as a rapidly growing new economy. Jobs do matter today, but only if they secure the future tomorrow.

    1. “Jobs do matter today, but only if they secure the future tomorrow.”

      Jobs matter more today than ANYTHING as unemployed folks don’t give a damn about the weather in 2100.

      Why should electric vehicles not go 200 km/h ? But then, some shouldn’t as they are just oversized golf carts suitable for cities only.

      Carbon emissions of folks driving 130 km/h or more are irrelevant compared to China’s or India’s coal plants pumping out umpteen times that today.

      Extreme weather events are not more common today than 100 years ago, just more widely reported due to a sensational media and 24×7 TV & internet and of course because far more folks live in coastal regions or flood plains than 100+ years ago incl far more industrial or commercial development in this at risk areas.

      The sea level rise also is vastly exaggerated .. but whatever .. just kill those jobs today and everything will be fine. Or at 129 km/h I guess ..

      1. Please respond to your assertion that volcanoes cause more climate change than human activity. Since you were absolutely 100% wrong on that give us a reason why your opinion matters.

      2. It’s funny how often eco activism is associated with dirty unemployed hippies, but it turns out they are just sad because they don’t have jobs eating the planet. Ya learn something new everyday!

      3. Propagandist mutterings such as (unemployed folks don’t…. electric cars are oversized golf carts…..any less CO2 than umpteen doesn’t matter……it’s the people that have changed – the environment is the same as always… sea level rise is…. vastly exaggerated [no reference cited]), all these propagandist mutterings sputter forth in defence of jobs? No, no.

      4. Making and installing solar panels, wind turbines and batteries or making electric cars and building mass transit are not real jobs. Real jobs involve dirt, filth and destruction. Real jobs are the ones that are threatened by new realities. New jobs created by those new realities count for nothing.

        Beyer seems truly proud of his ignorance on climate change, unperturbed by overwhelming scientific consensus, decades of accumulated supporting evidence and real-world changes staring him right in the face. This is a problem when you are stubborn and have chosen the losing side of what long ago used to be a debate. You continue arguing your point no matter how absurd you appear.

        When he isn’t deleted for blatant racism his racist under-tones are still disturbing. Always comparing our society’s flagrant consumption and high environmental footprint to those terrible Chinese and Indians. Would he ever compare the carbon emissions of 37 million Canadians to 37 million Chinese? Nope. Wouldn’t fit his racist outlook. Would he ever acknowledge that China is leaps and bounds ahead of Canada on solar and wind, high-speed trains, electric cars… ? Nope, not that either. Would he ever admit that our current society has reaped enormous wealth from the CO2 it put in atmosphere for a century or two before the Chinese even began to have any real impact at all? Never.

        What Beyer is telling us is that a German (or any good white person) has every right to pollute excessively because his or her thrill ride on the Autobahn is worth more than than the well being of 1.4 billion Chinese. It’s fine for the USA to snub their nose at global efforts to manage a crisis because they evolved from his white cultural background. The Chinese, who didn’t, are to blame for our problems even though their contribution to the problem has never come anywhere close to ours and even as they take a leadership role in implementing solutions.

        It would be just sad.

        Instead it is frightening that his ilk keep us all from flourishing; just as they once kept us in the trees, afraid of fire, resistant to agriculture and fighting against the very science that has made such great advances and that we all take for granted. Beyer and his conservative ideologies still fighting the latest science every step of the way.

        1. As far as our human story goes there are the words of the protagonist and those of the antagonist, which as a literary form serves to educate as opposed to indoctrinate.

          In the car story the true heroic character recently appeared on the ‘Motordom World Stage’, when Mr. Musk sent his electric car into orbit. Now every car manufacturer back on the surface of our shrinking planetary land mass is on notice and offering an electric car choice this model season or the very next one.

          This is an example of the kind of rapid radical transformation that a single person can bring about, a transformation which is quite heartening.

  3. Road design, road maintenance, and the absence of speed limits are what drive Germany’s design and manufacture of high-performance automobiles. It’s all about precision engineering and the German love of precise road handling and smooth engine performance at speeds well over 200km/hr. The autobahns are designed for these speeds. The result: when the world wants to buy high-performance automobiles, the German cars – Mercedes, BMW, Audi, Porsche – are among the top contenders because they’ve been road tested by millions of everyday Germans at these high speeds. I can’t imagine how engineering quality could be maintained if speed limits were introduced, and I can’t imagine international sales of these high-cost vehicles remaining strong if engineering performance degraded. “Germany used to make really good cars,” is not something your average German would want to have said about their country.

    1. There are countries without unlimited speed autobahns that produce high quality, precision, vehicles. Manufacturers in those countries seem to have figured it out. I like BMWs. I had one that was built in the US, and the one we have now was built in Austria. Both of those plants do very well for BMW.

      1. The story implies that the high speeds on German autobahns lead to high levels of highway carnage, and this is not true. Germany has one of the lowest rates of automobile deaths per 100k people. Much lower than Canada and even lower than neighbouring France where the freeway limit is 130 km/hr. Let’s get our automobile death rates as low as Germany’s before we criticize their record of highway safety.

        https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_countries_by_traffic-related_death_rate

        Editor’s note: In your table you will observe Fatality rates for Switzerland where enforced speed limits result in half the road carnage of Germany’s. Data shows Speed limits and enforcement save lives. Story says speed limits save lives and lowers emissions.

    2. Well said. It’s a brand. Like Champagne. Or Apple. Certain images or attributes are associated to certain brands. Take the high speed option away and the brand will be tarnished. Not ruined, but tarnished. Cars are a key export product and massive job and tax provider.

      If you never driven 200 km/h, try it at least once when you go there on vacation. Rent a car and do it on a Sunday morning on an empty stretch of straight highway. Its a rush you will not forget easily. While most folks don’t go that fast they routinely go 140-165 km/h.

      Having said that, electric cars are a major challenge to this German brand as the key ingredients, batteries and electric engines, are relatively simple vs the refined ICE (internal combustion engine) which is far more complex to manufacture. Plus China has a strangle hold on many key rare earth metals needed in batteries so Germany has lost a key competitive advantage here to China. As such, electric cars are only very reluctantly embraced by German car firms. They do it because they have to, not because they love it .. an entire industry is running scared and tries to delay its introduction .. so every angle is used incl not killing the high speed autobahn. CO2 matters little to the car lobby, many Germans nor many German politicians in this context despite their lip service about “the environment” ..

      1. If you say “ICE” in Germany people think Inter-City Express (trains), not the powertrains of cars. The future is ICE, not ICE.

          1. I suspect “Inter-City Express” is an English/American term in the railway context.

  4. This year BMW is producing an all electric i series, Audi is producing the all electric e-tron, Porsche is producing the all electric Taycan, and Mercedes-Benz will produce the all electric EQC. These new electrics designed and built in Germany will not be tested on the Autobahn, but some will certainly find their glory days there cruising along side the old school piston heads.

    1. What makes you think that Audi et. al. will not take their electric vehicles onto the Autobahn?

      I am pretty certain that the eTron as well as the Taycan will also go around the Nürburgring if for no other reason than to show the world how fast they are.

      The idea that German car manufacturers design “for the Autobahn” I think is a bit overblown. But having grown up in Stuttgart, surrounded by Mercedes and Porsches I do know that at night you could see them driving around in convoys testing new vehicles.

      The biggest problem on the Autobahn btw is not the unlimited speed, it’s traffic. Much like in every other part of the world, cars are much more of a day to day item than a luxury and that has brought with it an increase in motor vehicles.

      At the same time the Government since the ‘90s has underinvested in public transit, in no small part because they were trying to sell off the railways only to find a lot of resistance to this, and then of course the 2008 crash. Yet, for all the flowery words coming out of the Government, the massive investment that would be needed into rail is not happening and investment in public transit has also stalled.

      The end of the Cold War clearly has lead to successive German Governments to look at the US and UK as a model on “how to do things”, the only “saving grace” so far is that the country keeps living off of it’s “fat reserves” from the Cold War.

      1. deleted as per editorial policy

        Public transit is generally far better than here as is the train system. A major event was the change of legislation to actually allow commercial buses on the Autobahn that now compete at far FAR lower prices for pan-European trips with the train systems. For 20 Euros you can get from Amsterdam to Berlin, or Hamburg to Rome etc

  5. “No speed limit” isn’t quite correct. There is something called “guiding speed”, which is set at 180kph. This mostly affects how the courts rule in accidents. Essentially you CAN drive as fast as you like, but if you get into an accident and you were doing more than 180 the courts will not look kindly at you (they won’t either if you drive like a lunatic when the traffic does not allow for it).

    1. Of course the reality is nothing like the car addicts would have us believe, and Germany deals with the same idiotic motorists we do, doing the same stupid things. To their credit, they try to do something about it

      Illegal Car Racing in Germany.

  6. the villains’ role: to cast dispersions on the accomplishments of others…………more propaganda.

    The car industry is being electrified from top to bottom all across the planet, electrifying the grid with renewable sources and new storage capacity is also underway all across the planet.

    1. True, electrification is proceeding as are EVs by almost all manufacturers, but the pacing, like global warming, is widely exaggerated. Many of these electric “green” pet projects like high speed trains in California, or run-of-river projects in BC, windmills in the UK, Spain or Ontario are being cancelled as tax payers do not wish to spend tax subsidies on them anymore.

      Tesla also a massive subsidy receiver as they sell their ZEV (zero emission vehicle) credits to other often international car manufacturers to subsidize their massive losses (now 15 years and running).

      Why not google ZEV subsidies tesla

      They received, in Q3 2018 alone, directly in cash, or indirectly, over $700M in subsidies. Almost $3B annualized, artificially creating a profit !

      Clearly, this is NOT a sustainable business model that can be extended to all car manufacturers or car purchasers ! The lower and middle class subsidizing the upper middle class’ green image. Brilliant. That works as long as Tesla has a sub 0.5% market share. Like subsidies for solar, run-of-the-river and wind, it will end SOON.

      If you like golf car sized cars (single user only right now) why not consider Vancouver’s first EV firm: SOLO by Electra Meccanica ? [ Rides in this weather, to Whistler, not recommended though but then, that is not their mandate as an urban commuter car]

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