A speed limit for Germany?

July 29, 2009

In Germany, where many consider their cars sacred and most politicians on both the left and right refuse to consider tampering with the unlimited speed on the Autobahn for fear of hurting the car industry, the leader of the Greens party said it is high time for the country to join the rest of the civilised world and put an upper limit on Autobahn speeds — if for no other reason than to cut CO2 emissions

“The speed limit on German motorways will happen because it has to happen,” Cem Oezdemir, co-chair of the environmental Greens, said in an interview (click here for full story). “There will be an Autobahn speed limit as soon as the Greens are in power. We simply can’t afford it any longer to ignore any chance to reduce CO2 emissions. The interesting thing about a speed limit is that it would have an immediate impact on emissions. It would also save money, save lives and reduce the number of horrible injuries resulting from high-speed accidents. When you think about, it all the arguments speak in favour of a speed limit.”

Oezdemir, 43, said that aside from the powerful car lobby — which opposes a speed limit for fears it would damage the marketing mystique of carmakers like Porsche, BMW, Mercedes and Volkswagen — there are precious few reasons for letting cars continue drive at speeds of up to 200 kph and more: “The only argument against it is the pre-modern masculine dream of racing their cars at high speed.”

A study by Germany’s environmental protection office (Bundesumweltamt) found that a speed limit of 120 kph would lead to a 9 percent reduction in Germany’s CO2 emissions — practically overnight. It would also cut emissions of other pollutants by up to 28 percent. Greenpeace estimates that Germany could cut its CO2 emissions by some 40 million tonnes by 2020. There are speed limits of 130 kph on about half of Germany’s 12,000 km of motorway network. On unlimited sections cars often travel at speeds of up to 200 kph and some even reach 290 kph.

Some environmentalists reckon that CO2 reductions from cars worldwide could be even more substantial over the longer term. If consumers around the world were to stop buying the heavy, powerful cars built to race on German motorways and instead buy smaller, lighter and more fuel-efficient cars that aren’t built for such high speeds, emissions would not only be cut in Germany but in many other countries as well.

Germany, the world’s sixth largest emitter of greenhouse gases, likes to think of itself as a leader in the fight against climate change. But is that just hot air? Chancellor Angela Merkel, herself a former environment minister, has ruled out a speed limit: “It will not happen under me,” she said

As a number of foreign leaders have pointed out how can a country that refuses to introduce a speed limit to make a significant cut in its greenhouse gas emissions be taken seriously?

PHOTO: Cem Oezdemir, co-leader of Germany’s Greens party. REUTERS/Kai Pfaffenbach


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It doubt this will ever happen, the German car lobby is far too powerful. No other political party would like to burn its fingers on this.

Posted by Nikkei 225 | Report as abusive

You’ve got a point, Nikkei. The car lobby is very powerful. Until recently the Environment Minister was even opposed to a speed limit! Figure that one out… But there is pressure growing on the Germany government, also from abroad, to introduce a speed limit. How can Germany push other countries to reduce emissions when they turn a blind eye to one way to make a significant contribution themselves — with a speed limit?

Posted by Erik Kirschbaum | Report as abusive

In this modern times when compromises will have to be made to collectively tackle the climate change debacle, I see changing times ahead. German car lobby or not I think most Germans will probably favour a speed limit if Merkel et al decide to introduce one. The car industry will not want to have negative PR for their CSR endeavours. Having said that, with the German car industry being innovative in technology to reduce car emissions, I have doubts if a 9% emissions reduction can be achieved with a speed limit of 120km/h…..I would have thought much less can be achieved.

Posted by VAS | Report as abusive