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Cars and TransportationGermany

Germany: Majority want autobahn speed limits

October 29, 2021

Germany's likely next government would appear out of step with the public on this key issue. According to a new poll, Germans prefer speed limits over most other climate protection measures.

Experts say introducing a speed limit could significantly reduce Germany's emissions.
Image: Christoph Hardt/Geisler-Fotopres/picture alliance

A new survey shows that most people in Germany are in favor of abandoning the country's policy of having highways with no speed limit.  

However, the issue has already been taken off the table in talks to form a new coalition government.  

What Germans think about autobahn speed limits

According to a new poll by public broadcaster ARD, 60% of Germans agree there should be a speed limit of at least 130 kilometers per hour (80 mph), an increase of three percentage points from June.

Only 38% said there should not be a limit at all.

The poll found that curbing highway speeds was a much more popular piece of climate policy than other options, such as taxing meat and dairy products.

Only 39% of people in Germany support a tax on animal products — a drop of nine percentage points from June, while 57% are still against it.

An increase in gas prices was the most unpalatable solution to Germans, with 78% rejecting a hike in fuel taxes.

Autobahn speed limits and coalition talks

The parties involved in talks to form a new government appear out of step with public sentiment.

The neoliberalFree Democrats (FDP) have made it clear they opposeintroducing a speed limit on the autobahn.

Party leader Christian Lindner said speed limits were "unnecessary."

"It would be better to have dynamic speed limits based on immediate dangers such as wet surfaces or heavy traffic," he wrote on Twitter recently.

Although coalition negotiations with the center-left Social Democrats (SPD) and environmentalist Greens are still ongoing, leaders of those two parties have made no public challege to the status quo.

The enviromental impact of a speed limit

All three parties have expressed a desire to do more to protect the environment.

Dr. Giulio Mattioli, a transport and climate policy researcher at Technical University Dortmund, told DW that introducing a speed limit would be a tangible way to do that.

"Studies estimate that the reduction in emissions [through a speed limit] would be about 2 million tons per year." The outgoing government of Chancellor Angela Merkel had set a goal for many sectors of the economy to reduce 5 million tons of emissions a year, and the transport sector has been lagging particularly behind.

Yet despite the fact that even auto industry companies and organizations have promised not to fight the speed limit, and the public is in favor, some politicians still cling to it.

"What polls don’t capture is how motivated the minority is," Mattioli said.

"It’s become something of a pet cause," amongst some politcians, he explained. "It's fetishized by some as symbolic of 'true freedom'" in what they perceive as a country of restrictions. 

Asked why politicians on the other side were so vocal in their support, he added: "It’s low-hanging fruit. It would improve safety and traffic flow, cut emissions, every other country has it. Politicians can use it as an easy way to show they are serious about transport and climate."

German car fans fear speed limits

What are the rules on Germany's autobahns?

The parliament of the former West Germany voted to abolish speed limits in 1952. 

It gave powers to decide on the matter to Germany’s individual states. 

Limits were reintroduced on urban roads and on potentially hazardous routes between cities. 

Permanent speed restrictions apply on around 30% of the German autobahn network, and a further 10% is subject to a variable speed limit that applies at certain times, depending on the weather, time of day and traffic.  

Elizabeth Schumacher
Elizabeth Schumacher Elizabeth Schumacher reports on gender equity, immigration, poverty and education in Germany.