Sunday, June 6th, 2021
130 km / h on the motorway
Speed limit – ideology or necessary?
From Kevin Schulte
The debate is as old as the modern car: a speed limit on German autobahns. Annalena Baerbock wants to get it through when she becomes the first Green Chancellor. A maximum of 130 kilometers per hour should be allowed. But controversy is inevitable.
On two out of three kilometers of autobahn in Germany there are statistically speaking no speed limit. There the accelerator pedal can be depressed – provided the traffic situation permits and no construction sites reduce the speed. The Greens want to change that after the federal election. And the party around top candidate Annalena Baerbock is not alone in this. According to Survey by the Federal Environment Agency two out of three Germans are more in favor of introducing a speed limit of 130 kilometers per hour on motorways. A third is against it and insists on freedom.
That is what traffic scientists think Harald Kipke from the Technical University of Nuremberg in the ntv podcast “Another thing learned” for wrong. Above all, a general speed limit would lead to more safety. “Every reduction in speed is a twofold increase in safety. On the one hand, because the kinetic energy and thus the theoretical collision energy decrease. On the other hand, it is also the case that car drivers cover a shorter distance in their reaction time and can therefore avoid them faster and better . “
ADAC is neutral
How much public opinion has turned when it comes to the question of a speed limit on German autobahns is shown above all by the example of the ADAC. The largest German automobile club is now acting neutrally in the debate about a general limit on the maximum speed. Because even its members are very divided, the ADAC announced on ntv request.
In 1974 it sounded very different when the car club launched the now famous campaign “Free Ride for Free Citizens!” started and thus landed a great success. Instead of the discussed general speed limit of 100 km / h, only the non-binding speed limit of 130 km / h was introduced on the motorways at that time. This is still the case in Germany today.
But the higher the speed, the longer the braking distance. This increases the force of an impact, these are physical laws. Nonetheless, the number of serious accidents on motorways with fatalities and injuries is falling significantly. In the past year, a good ten in ten traffic fatalities died on a motorway. Most serious accidents have occurred in urban areas, most fatal ones on rural roads. Statistically, highways are the safest roads. “Conversely, one also has to say that motorways are built in such a way that certain accidents are more or less excluded. For example, there are no crossing streams of vehicles,” emphasizes traffic scientist Kipke.
Demand for a test run at 150 km / h
For some years now, insurers’ accident research has been campaigning for at least a test introduction of the speed limit on German motorways. There is still too little research on the effects of speed limits, explained Head of Siegfried Brockmann in the ntv podcast. “As a scientist, I am always in favor of us doing things that we have also adequately investigated. That is why we need a large-scale test. The last one was in the 1970s, but we had completely different cars that run at 140 km / h anyway closed at some point. ”
The accident researcher advocates a test run with a speed limit of 150 kilometers per hour. That is the speed that 90 percent of motorists rarely exceed anyway. With this one can also get the problem of the enormous speed differences under control. “Probably 90 percent of the population would be behind it,” Brockmann expects. “But there is probably no way there at the moment, because interested parties would like to ideologize it.”
He describes it as “pure ideology” second largest German car club, the AvD, a general speed limit on motorways. The “responsible citizen” must also be allowed to drive at higher speed “in good weather conditions without penalty”, demands the German Automobile Club. Critics of speed limits, including the AvD, also claim that slower driving actually increases the likelihood of accidents because it is more monotonous and drivers are therefore more easily distracted.
Brockmann cannot completely dismiss this either. But that’s not a big problem on the autobahn, apart from the speed you always have something to do, says the accident researcher. “Not all of them drive exactly the same speed. Someone drives out of my lane, someone else in. So there is a lot to do. Therefore, I consider the risk to be limited.”
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In principle, however, the phenomenon does exist, confirms Harald Kipke. He refers to the so-called “Yerkes-Dodson Law”. According to this, cognitive performance is highest when the level of tension is in the middle and not in the low or high range. However, this knowledge is not suitable as an argument against a speed limit, believes the traffic expert, because even when driving fast you can fall into “a certain monotony”. Then “exactly the same mechanisms would occur”.
Some traffic researchers such as Harald Kipke expect a safety gain for country roads if a speed limit is introduced on motorways. The reason: whoever races on the autobahn, experiences a rush of speed. Immediately afterwards, 100 km / h feels extremely slow on the country road. That can quickly become dangerous. The problem: There are no reliable scientific findings on this either.
Tightened speed limit on country roads too?
The Greens and other advocates of the speed limit generally see a speed limit not only as a safety effect, but also as a contribution to climate protection. The Verkehrsclub Deutschland (VCD) is one of them. The association has been campaigning for more environmentally friendly mobility since it was founded in 1986 and even calls for a maximum speed of 120 on the motorway. “The Federal Environment Agency recently analyzed that a speed limit of 130 kilometers per hour could save around two million tonnes of CO2 annually. If you go up to 120 km / h, it is almost three million tonnes. This corresponds to the effect of around 1.3 Millions fewer cars on German roads, “says Michael Müller-Görnert, transport policy spokesman at VCD, on the podcast.
The Verkehrsclub Deutschland not only demands a speed limit of 120 on motorways, but also a speed reduction on country roads, where most of the motorists have accidents. “Tempo 80 is definitely a significant gain in safety. In this respect, we also need a new top speed on country roads,” demands Müller-Görnert.
The ADAC and accident researcher Brockmann also advocate speed 80 at least on narrow country roads. This must then apply to all road users, including heavy trucks that weigh more than 7.5 tons. Tempo 80 instead of Tempo 60 “would also minimize the overtaking pressure”.
Even if only 130 km / h is allowed on German autobahns after the federal election, the debate about speed limits is far from over. The entire German road network includes about 230,000 kilometers. Barely 13,000 of which are highways.