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Germany and Speed Limits.

If you are (or have been) in Germany, and drove a car, you will probably have made your acquaintance with it. If you’ve never been to Germany, chances are high that you have at least heard of it, and probably tried to imagine how that works…

…I’m talking about the lack of a speed limit on the Autobahn.

German Autobahn has no universal speed limit. So if your car goes insanely fast, you are allowed to go insanely fast. 300 km per hour? You’re good to go.

Unless, of course, there’s a speed restriction because of construction. Or because of a dangerous bend. Or too dense traffic. Or noise prevention. Or rain. So a good amount of the Autobahn is actually limited in speed (though there’s also a good amount of drivers who just don’t care about that, and go over the limit anyways).

In those areas where there is no restriction, you can go as fast as you like, provided you endanger nobody else. So if there’s more traffic… well. You are supposed to slow down to a safe speed. Actually we do have the “Richtgeschwindigkeit”, which is the recommended speed, and that is 130 km/h. Which, of course, is not the speed for lorries, as they are only allowed to go 80 km/h (which means they do about 90-110, depending on what they can get away with).

So driving on the Autobahn in areas with no speed limit means that you will have to overtake a lorry, or several of them, now and then – and that while you are in the left lane, something may come toward you insanely fast, much faster than you are.

That difference between speeds actually is what makes the Autobahn both more dangerous and, ironically, more prone to traffic jams that hold up everything – because these very fast cars have to brake hard when there’s some slow driver (like me!) blocking their path, and that always means they slow down more than to just the speed of the car before them. If you get this a few times in a row (which is no problem on a medium-busy Autobahn), you have a so-called “Spontanstau”, a traffic jam rising out of nowhere… which would be completely avoidable through, you guessed it, a universal speed limit.

There’s a lot of solid, nice evidence for the general smartness of a general speed limit, and most countries have one. It means lower impact on the environment due to less emitted CO2, fewer traffic jams, and more safety as the number and severity of accidents drops. (Here’s some info in German about this.)

Unfortunately, there is a strong lobby in Germany that does not want the German Holy Cow to be restricted in any way – and that includes speed limits. (About as smart as US weapon law… but I guess every nation has their brain fart.) I once got rid of a car club membership salesman in record speed when I told him I’d join their club in the split second they started advocating the general speed limit on the Autobahn. He was gone at high speed!

There is, by the way, one “car club” that does promote the speed limit – it’s the VCD. Which also offers an accident and breakdown cover that not only applies to the car, but also to your bicycle, should you be on a cycle tour. (We’re members. You guessed that, right?)

If you are in Germany, you now have the chance to join in on a petition to finally get a universal speed limit on the German Autobahn. There is an official petition running at the e-petition portal of the Deutscher Bundestag; you will need to register for that portal once, and then you can add your vote to the petitions listed there.

If you, too, think that this is a good idea – please spread the word!

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2 Responses to Germany and Speed Limits.

  1. Bruce says:

    Those odd traffic jams on fast roads, that seem to have no cause, are/were called ‘caterpillars’ after the visual effect seen when a caterpillar crawls along. There is a temporary slowdown or interruption which causes a few cars to slow then move off – this then causes the next few cars to do the same thing but further back along the road. Pretty soon it is a few dozen cars crawling along kilometers from whatever caused the problem, which has often rectified itself withing a few minutes. The same thing causes buses to run in blocks of several buses when they all started at different times and often from different places.

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