After being rejected as a measure two years ago, the idea of a national speed limit on the Autobahn has become a topic of political discussion in Germany again. The German highway system famously does not have a national speed limit after the legislature of West Germany abolished the restrictions in 1952. Recent polling data has however shown a large shift in German public attitude towards a speed limit across the entire Autobahn, but a political roadblock will seemingly prevent any enactment.
The 1952 abolition also gave the power to set speed limits to the states within Germany’s federal republic. The current speed restrictions in place include permanent limits in urban areas and temporary limits based on road conditions such as inclement weather, heavy traffic and time of day.
The current push to introduce a national speed limit largely revolves around the environmental impact of combustion vehicles running at high speed. The German Federal Environmental Agency estimates that a national speed limit of 80 mph (130 km/h) would reduce Germany’s CO2 emissions by 2 million tons per year. A poll conducted by ARD, a German public broadcaster, found that 60% of Germans would like a national speed limit of at least 80 mph to be implemented.
Four-time Formula One World Champion Sebastian Vettel even voiced his support of a speed limit when asked by RaceFans in the week of the Turkish Grand Prix last October. Vettel said “It’s a way to save up to two million tonnes of CO2 when it comes to emissions. And even bigger, it’s probably making the roads a little bit safer.”
All of this coincided with a surge in popularity for the Green Party in Germany during the run-up to the German federal elections in late September. The Greens won the 3rd most seats in the German legislature after the election. Not to go out into the weeds on how governments are formed in Germany, I’ll simply state that a government must have majority support in the legislature. A single party in modern Germany has almost never won a majority of seats on their own, meaning that parties must negotiate with each other to win their support to form a government. This gives smaller parties, like the Greens, leverage in the government’s policy and composition.
The Greens were the party that unsuccessfully proposed a national speed limit two years ago. Though, the ongoing negotiations to form a government will not include a national speed limit. The Free Democratic Party, the other smaller party necessary to form a government, is opposed to a national speed limit. The leader of the FDP called the potential speed limits “unnecessary.”
While Germany’s political system promotes cooperation and fair representation, it seems ridiculous that a party that won 11.5 percent of the vote could prevent a policy wanted by 60 percent of people.