Speeding around the world series - Germany

Speed kills, but not on Germany’s autobahns

Speed limits have been in the news in Australia lately with the controversy over the Northern Territory’s decision to expand open speed limits, but how do Australia’s speed limits compare with the rest of the world?

Over the next few weeks we’ll be taking a look at speeding around the world, starting with those freewheeling Germans with their famous autobahns where you can barrel down the road at any speed you like. Or can you?

The idea of Autobahns dates back to the 1920s but construction never really got under way until around 10 years later when Germans enthusiastically embraced the world’s first high speed road network. From the start speed was a feature, with a world record 432km/h set on a section of the Frankfurt am Main to Darmstadt section in 1938.

However in 1939 the countries thirst for speed was throttled back to a maximum of 80kmh in an effort to reduce its vehicles’ thirst for fuel with the outbreak of the war.

Following the war the new West German government abolished all speed limits in 1952, leaving speed limit decisions to the nation’s individual states. However, this speeding free-for-all brought a rapidly rising death toll that saw a 50km/h urban limit introduced in 1957 with 100km/h in rural areas except on the motorways.

East of the Iron Curtain the relatively safety conscious East Germans enforced 100km/h limits on the autobahns and 80km/h outside the cities.

Reunification in 1990 saw traffic fatalities double in just two years as Germans discovered that high-powered Porsches and half-plastic two-stroke Trabants wheezing along at 80km/h were a fatal mismatch on open-speed autobahns.

 
Maximum fine in A$
Maximum speed
Length of motorway
/person (mm)
Cars per 1000 people
Interesting facts
Top selling vehicle (2014)
Germany
$1100
100 km/h
(unlimited on some autobahns)
159.4
588
Despite high speeds, Germany’s autobahns are comparatively safe.
VW Golf
 
Germany
Maximum fine in A$
$1100
Maximum speed
100 km/h(unlimited on some autobahns)
Length of motorway/person (mm)
159.4
Cars per 1000 people
588
Interesting facts
Despite high speeds, Germany’s autobahns are comparatively safe.
Top selling vehicle (2014)
VW Golf

A speeding free for all?

Today’s autobahns are far from a petrol-head paradise free-for-all, with just over half having posted speed limits and one in ten of them having a motorway control system with variable speed limits.

Outside of towns where the roads have a central reservation or a minimum of two marked lanes per direction, there’s no speed limit and you can expect to be passed by cars or motorbikes charging along at 200km/h or more, though probably not by a Trabant.

While some political and environmental groups have campaigned for decades to introduce national speed limits it’s a situation that’s not about to change any time soon.

Safety

So if speed kills does that mean Germany’s autobahns are a slaughterhouse? Far from it, in fact. In 2013 autobahns accounted for 13% of Germany’s traffic deaths despite carrying 31% of its road traffic.

Like most developed nations, Germany’s road fatalities have been decreasing for decades. Between 1970 and 2010 they fell by a remarkable 80%, while deaths on the Autobahn fell by half.

In fact Germany has the 11th lowest road toll in the OECD (five places better than Australia’s), and well above the OECD median.

Off the Autobahn

Elsewhere in Germany the speed limits are quite conservative, with a limit on rural roads of 100km/h unless marked otherwise. The limit in villages, towns and cities is 50km/h and just 30km/h in residential areas. All of which undoubtedly contributes to making Germany’s streets some of the world’s safest for motorists and pedestrians.

Check out our other blogs in the series, Speeding around the world series - China.

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Categories: Safety
Jimmy Saif Driver - Bad driving doesn't kill either, it's impact force that kills. Speed is one of the mathematical factors for working out this force and is the same regardless of that speed resulting from bad driving or good driving. For any given car on any given day it is the only considerable variable factor in the set of mathematical equations that will determine if you, or someone else, lives or dies as a result of an accident. It has nothing to do with cops and their ability to fine you.

"So if speed kills does that mean Germany’s autobahns are a slaughterhouse? Far from it, in fact. In 2013 autobahns accounted for 13% of Germany’s traffic deaths despite carrying 31% of its road traffic."

But hang on a second...

"...the number of deaths per kilometer of motorway was 30% lower on sections of German motorways that have speed limits compared to sections with no limits..." - http://www.carrsq.qut.edu.au/publications/corporate/speeding_fs.pdf

Even the fleetcare article states "Between 1970 and 2010 they fell by a remarkable 80%, while deaths on the Autobahn fell by half." This suggests that there was a 30% more reduction in road fatalities on speed limited roads.

I posit that other factors may be resulting in Germany raking 5 places high that Australia on the OECD road toll rankings. Say, better learner driver programs for one.

Speed limits take into account various factors such as road design, pedestrian factors, environmental factors, that country's/state's average level of driver training, etc. Not to say You can't do more than this, but on average the population cannot safely drive above this speed on this particular stretch of road. Safely does not only mean able to drive in a straight line at high speed or navigate a curve at speed or maintain you place in your lane, but what to do in an emergency or how to deal with rapid changes in road condition (rain, a sign marking tight bend ahead knocked over etc.). Having had an accident at 100km/h (in a 100km/h limit zone) I can tell you, hell goes from 0 to 10 very quickly.

Ask the people around you the distance required to stop their car at 100km/h and you may be lucky to find one that knows. I've asked 30 people at work just now, not one could provide an accurate answer. I don't even know my car's required distance.

This article covers some of the problems with a training system and differences between ours and Germany's http://www.drive.com.au/motor-news/the-real-crash-course-on-driving-20140702-zssv0.html

Maybe we should be pushing a better driver training programs rather than unlimited or higher speeds first?

My $0.02 - Jim
6/10/2015 3:07:19 PM
Saif Driver The first line of this article is a contradiction. Speed doesn't kill, bad driving kills but police find it more difficult to fine you for bad driving so the anti-speed lobby hold sway. It's time Australia brought in unlimited speed limits on freeways outside urban areas and repealed the stupid nanny state laws that have everyone driving at 100kph which is at least 30kph lower than every country in Europe. If Germany with unlimited speed limits is 5 places better than us on the OECD road toll rankings how can it make sense to retain speed limits? 24/09/2015 3:19:30 PM
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