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Green autobahn speed limit bid voted down

October 17, 2019

German ministers have overwhelmingly voted against a Greens proposal to impose speed limits on the country's highways. Backers said the measure would improve traffic, safety and pollution. Critics said it made no sense.

A road sign indicating a speed limit of 130 kilometers per hour
Image: picture-alliance/blickwinkel/McPHOTO

Germany's parliament, the Bundestag, has voted against a bill proposed by the Greens that would have introduced a speed limit of 130 kilometers per hour (80 miles per hour) on the nation's highways.

Out of the 631 votes cast on Thursday, 498 voted against the proposal. All members of the far-right AfD and the business-friendly FDP parties rejected the bill, and just two members from each of the center-left Social Democrats (SPD) and conservative parties voted for the proposal. There were only a handful of abstentions.

"You're defending a transport policy from the day before yesterday," said Cem Özdemir, Green party member and chair of the Committee on Transport, to Transport Minister Andreas Scheuer, a prominent speed limit opponent.

The proposal from the opposition Greens triggered a heated debate in Germany, which is known for its network of speed limit-free motorways.

Greens lawmaker Anton Hofreiter said speed restrictions were "long overdue" and would help prevent fatal accidents, bring down costs for motorists and reduce noise pollution and climate emissions.

"Those who want to make motorways safer and the traffic flow more smoothly must back a speed limit," he told the German press agency dpa.

Read moreCan autobahn speed limits cut carbon emissions?

Government rejects limits

The federal government, a coalition of Chancellor Angela Merkel's conservative CDU/CSU bloc and the SPD, ruled out an autobahn speed limit during talks on how to curb emissions in January. At the time, the Environment Ministry said the measure would do little to shrink Germany's carbon footprint.

Scheuer has also previously said the idea of imposing limits "defies all common sense."

Germany is the only country in Europe with no official speed limit on highways. Neighboring countries Austria, Denmark, the Netherlands, France and the Czech Republic all have a 130 kilometers per hour limit (80 miles per hour). In Belgium and Switzerland, a 120 kph limit is in place.

Read moreEverything you need to know about the German autobahn

Özdemir told public broadcaster ARD ahead of the vote that he didn't expect it to pass, but "as is so often the case with Greens proposals, we present them, and eventually there'll be a majority behind them."

Despite the rejection of the proposal and widespread perception that all Germany's highways are without speed limits, around 30% of motorways in Germany have a fixed speed limit some or all of the time, mainly in and around cities, according to Germany's largest automobile club, the ADAC. Stricter speed limits are enforced at areas where roadworks are in progress.  

Autobahn of the future, CO2 free

kmm, nm/msh (dpa, AFP)

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