Berlin (dpa) – It’s a political longrunner with built-in excitement potential – and has already arrived in the federal election campaign, 2021 edition: should there be a general speed limit on Germany’s autobahnen, which has been bitterly debated for decades?
The SPD, the Greens and the Left are campaigning for it – the Union, FDP and AfD are still strongly against it. This traditional lead has always meant that nothing has changed and the proverbial free ride continues to apply. Could the big issue of climate protection spark a surprising move this time around?
Scheuer: “Freedom or Forbidden”
Federal Transport Minister Andreas Scheuer drew a clear line of defense for the election campaign: “The argument for a general speed limit is a political instrument of war, for some even a fetish,” said the CSU politician of the German news agency in Berlin. “When making a choice, citizens can decide whether they want freedom of mobility – or restrictions and prohibitions. And the Greens are way up front.”
Proponents of a speed limit, such as Deutsche Umwelthilfe, argue that in order to achieve the 2030 climate targets, massive savings on carbon dioxide (CO2) must be made, especially in traffic. And the measure with the greatest savings potential is a speed limit of 120 kilometers per hour (km/h) on highways, 80 km/h outdoors and 30 km/h in the city. In addition, a speed limit increases road safety enormously due to fewer accidents.
Technology a factor
Scheuer objected: “The German autobahns are the safest roads in the world. On country roads we often have road safety problems, that’s what our focus should be on.” In general, speed limits are already in place on about a third of the motorway network, the average speed is 117 km/h. The system of the recommended recommended speed of 130 has proven itself.
Then there is the technological development: “With alternative drives, automation and autonomous driving, the average speed will fall anyway,” says Scheuer. “A driver of an electric car knows exactly: if you change your speed too often or drive too high, you quickly get out of reach of your car.”
Even autonomous driving with computer-controlled cars will not be allowed at top speed. “In addition, there will be more intelligence in the vehicle: soon the speed specifications will not be on the metal plate, but in the car itself: the driver will receive much more information, for example warned of weather conditions such as heavy rain.”
Whip against the general limit
With climate change in mind, CDU boss and chancellor candidate Armin Laschet had rejected an overall limit of 130. «Why should an electric vehicle that produces no CO2 emissions be allowed to drive faster than 130? That is illogical,” he told the editorial network Germany. The FDP is also against the speed limit. The election manifesto reads: “We are committed to innovation, reason and freedom.” Speed limits, diesel or motorcycle driving bans are “neither progressive nor sustainable”. The AfD also clearly rejects a speed limit: hard speed limits should be checked regularly.
SPD and Greens for 130km/h
In contrast, the SPD’s election manifesto states: “We will introduce a speed limit of 130 km/h on federal highways. This protects the environment and significantly reduces the number of accidents.” The Greens want to reverse the ratio between the rule and the exception to achieve greater safety on the road: Pace 30 should be the rule in urban areas and a “safety speed” of 130 should apply on roads. “If special reasons make it necessary, such as in and around cities or metropolitan areas, a maximum of 120 km/h applies.” The left also wants borders to protect people and the climate: 120 km/h on highways, 80 km /h on country roads and 30 km/h in urban areas.
«White spot» Germany
Currently, most highways are still free to travel – on 70 percent of the network. There are permanent or temporary restrictions with signs on 20.8 percent of the network, as Federal Highway Research Institute data for 2015 shows – the most common being Tempo 120 (7.8 percent) and Tempo 100 (5.6 percent) ). There are also variable traffic control displays. The recommended recommended speed of 130 has been in effect for over 40 years. If you look on an EU map, Germany is a “blank spot”, there are speed limits everywhere according to an ADAC overview.
There is currently also discussion about speed outside the autobahn: recently seven major German cities demanded a change in traffic rules to test speed 30 on a large scale in a pilot project. The usual speed of 50 km/h may then only be allowed on a few main roads.
Scheuer: “We want to give municipalities more leeway for testing and have long made it easier to set Tempo 30 zones in dangerous places or in residential areas. But a general, area-covering Tempo 30 in city centers is too general for me.” It would not be appropriate for a municipality to say that it wants to go to 30 km/h everywhere. “Because we also need good traffic flow for supraregional through traffic.”