Germany Gets First Ever Autobahn Speed Limit | Germany | News and in-depth reporting from Berlin and beyond | DW | 09.04.2008

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Germany Gets First Ever Autobahn Speed Limit

For the first time in the country's highway history, a German state has set a speed limit on its Autobahn, rekindling a long-running debate on curbing speed to boost road safety and combat pollution.

Germany is famed for its Autobahn, where people can drive as fast as they like -- in some sections

Bremen officials hope the rule will lead to widespread action to tame speed devils

On Wednesday, April 9, Germany’s smallest state put speed limit signs on the last six of its 60 kilometers (37 miles) of highway, limiting car traffic to 120 km per hour (75 miles per hour).

A worker mounts a 120 km/hour sign on a German highway

Speeds are often limited on crowded road stretches

“Our goal is to achieve an overall speed limit in Germany, together with other German states,” said Bremen’s top environment politician, Reinhard Loske. “This is a great day for traffic safety and sends a signal for environmental protection,” he added.

The Green Party politician also said he would start talks with his counterparts in other states about introducing a national highway speed limit.

Activists cite environment, safety

“The danger of serious accidents involving personal injury is reduced wherever there is a speed limit,” Loske said.

Speed limits are not only good for the environment -- at lower speeds, cars burn less fuel, expelling fewer greenhouse gas emissions -- but they protect people, statistics show.

This smashed car was forced off the road by a speeder who overtook the driver, frightening her off the road in 2003

Speeding can lead to bad accidents

German highways often have speed limits for noise reduction, where traffic is heavy, or at junctions. Currently, a little over half of German highways have no speed limits around Germany.

But the debate over a general speed limit on the German Autobahn (the word simply means “highway” in German) is an ongoing one.

Proponents demand an overall limit of 120 or 130 kilometers per hour, citing environmental and safety reasons. This past autumn, German environmental organizations and an alliance of police experts called “Pro-Tempolimit” got together to demand a speed limit.

Public opinion is divided

But German automobile clubs as well as the German automobile industry -- known for its heavy, fast and well-engineered vehicles, and the motor of a chunky segment of the German economy -- oppose speed limits. Chancellor Angela Merkel also came out on the side of the auto industry, in opposition to speed limits.

Public opinion is nearly evenly divided on the issue.

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