Autobahn speed limits are a third-rail issue when it comes to German politics. The current coalition government vowed not to impose an autobahn-wide speed limit as part of the agreement that let the three parties work together. But while the German government seems dead-set on avoiding the issue, German citizens seem to have shifted their opinion: German magazine Der Spiegel published a poll showing that 55 percent of Germans support the immediate imposition of a speed limit across the entire autobahn. But there’s a catch.
This factoid comes to us via the New York Times, which dives into what German politicians will and won’t do to reduce the country’s reliance on Russian energy. The government has made some big moves to avoid a potential energy crisis this winter, mandating that public buildings set their heat to a relatively chilly 66 degrees Fahrenheit, shutting off the lighting on billboards and monuments after 10 P.M., and extending the life of two nuclear powerplants that were slated to close.
But among all of this, the Times reports, the German government has steadfastly avoided any suggestion of imposing a speed limit on the currently unrestricted portions of the autobahn.
Autobahn restrictions have long been a topic German politicians have sought to avoid. The libertarian-leaning Free Democratic Party, one third of the current coalition government ruling the country, has even made blocking autobahn speed limits a part of its national platform. “The F.D.P. has made this into an issue of identity,” Wolfgang Schroeder, a political science professor at the University of Kassel, told the Times. “They’ve said, ‘We are the party of drivers and freedom, and we don’t want any state interference.’”
And there’s the catch: While 55 percent of people who responded to the Spiegel poll say they support a system-wide autobahn speed limit, they only support it as a temporary measure, and 39 percent oppose any new limits at all. Even though, as the German Environment Ministry has found, a 100km/h limit on the autobahn could help the country save more than 550 million gallons of fuel every year.
The tides seem to be shifting on autobahn opinions. Currently, there are permanent speed limits on roughly 30 percent of the nationwide highway system. And as the Times reports, ADAC, the 20-million-member German automobile club (roughly equivalent to our AAA), stopped lobbying against further autobahn limits in 2020, when the club found that most of its members no longer opposed speed limits.