Autobahn speed limit: 'Not with me,' says Merkel

12th November 2007, Comments 0 comments

While the European Union mulls speed limits, the usually conciliatory German leader puts her foot down.


Angela Merkel's image is scarcely racy, but when it comes to speeding down the autobahn, the German chancellor is emphatic: there will be no speed limit on her watch.

"Not with me," was her instant response to a call from her junior coalition partner, the Social Democrats (SPD), for an overall speed limit of 130 kilometres an hour.

The Christian Democrat (CDU) leader knows her conservative constituency. Her understated trouser-suits go down well, as do her cautious, unmemorable speeches.

That constituency is addicted to speed.

A natural right

Conservative Germans may happily follow rules in most other areas, but travelling at 180 kilometres an hour is seen as a natural right in the land of the Porsche, Mercedes, BMW and Audi.

Merkel's official car is an Audi A8.

 The speed limit theme is a hardy perennial in Germany, where motorists can travel at any speed they like on around half of the country's 12,000 kilometres of autobahn. The "recommended" speed of 130 is ignored by most.

"Freie Fahrt fuer freie Buerger," (unrestricted driving for unrestricted citizens) is a slogan dating back to the 1970s that still resonates, albeit with a touch of irony these days.

Decreasing death

Cutting autobahn deaths and injuries used to be the main argument for a speed limit. Last year, 600 people died on the country's autobahns, most of them on the stretches where there is no speed limit.

But most of the 5,094 road deaths last year occurred on minor roads, where speed limits apply, as speed-limit opponents quickly point out. The limit is 100 kilometres an hour on trunk roads.

The central argument this time is about cutting carbon dioxide emissions. Not even Environment Minister Sigmar Gabriel is impressed.

"I have no problem with a speed limit," Gabriel, a member of the SPD, said.


"The truth is, however, that some 2.5 million tons of carbon dioxide would be saved -- but we need 270 million tons."

Gabriel went on to say that the "symbolic effect" of a limit could be useful.

Powerful lobby

That symbolism cut little ice with the powerful car lobby. Motor industry president Matthias Wissmann described the SPD decision as "of little ecological use and purely symbolic."

And the ADAC automobile association weighed in with: "A speed limit makes no sense, either from a traffic safety point of view, or for the sake of the environment."

Germany's car manufacturers know where their profits lie -- in the luxury class of heavy limousines powered by high-performance engines. Even if their drivers never reach the 200-plus top speeds, the awareness of what the car is capable of is a powerful marketing tool.


Germany is not quite unique in its attitudes to speed. Motorists can travel as fast as they like on the Isle of Man, although not very far, as the island is less than 50 kilometres long.

Motorway speed limits across Europe stand at 130 kilometres an hour in countries like France, Italy and Poland. Britain, Spain and Sweden have even lower limits.

These days, the EU is mulling what it can do to standardize road rules and increase traffic safety.

12 November 2007

Copyright DPA with Expatica

Subject: Germany, speed limits, EU, politics, road safety

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