14 Jul 2021, 13:11
Edgar Meza

Broad alliance calls for speed limits in Germany to improve climate and safety

Clean Energy Wire

A broad-based coalition of environmental groups and police representatives is calling for Germany’s next government to impose a general speed limit on the country’s autobahns after this year’s federal election in September. "Lower speeds massively reduce CO2 emissions and could save thousands of lives," said Kerstin Haarmann, chair of environmental mobility group VCD in a joint press release. The “speeding lobby,” however, is fighting against safer motorways and political leaders are making it unnecessarily difficult for municipalities to introduce a 30-kilometre-per-hour speed limit by doing nothing, she added. The alliance includes environmental associations, the North Rhine-Westphalia police union and traffic safety associations. In addition to an autobahn speed limit, the alliance is calling for the maximum speed outside of towns and cities to be reduced to 80 kilometres per hour and a regular speed of 30 kilometres per hour within cities. 

A general speed limit is politically controversial and transport minister Andreas Scheuer has previously rejected it. "The argument for a general speed limit is a political instrument of combat, for some even a fetish," Scheuer, a member of the conservative Christian Social Union party, told the news agency dpa, adding that Germany’s autobahns are the safest roads in the world. But Stefan Bauernschuster from the University of Passau and Christian Traxler from the Hertie School reject that claim. Compared internationally, German highways are not considered particularly safe, they write in an article for the journal Perspektiven der Wirtschaftspolitik, cited by the scientific information service idw. Excessive speed is by far the most frequent cause of fatal accidents, the researchers stress. A speed limit would not only lead to fewer deaths and injuries, but also to better health outcomes for the approximately 15 million people who live near highways without a speed limit, they add. "A considerable part of the population could directly benefit from a decrease in emissions." They also cite studies that detail the negative effects of air pollution from vehicle emissions on the health of people, particularly children and the elderly. Emissions of pollutants increase disproportionately at high speeds, they stress. Such research, however, is not even being considered in the current debate on speed limits in Germany, the researchers point out.

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