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Germans need their freedom to speed

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BERLIN - A government commission has recommended a speed limit on the autobahns in Germany, the only rich country where a driver doesn’t need to watch the speedometer on most of the highways. So the nation is debating what speed restrictions can actually achieve in terms of traffic safety and climate protection, a conversation the rest of the world should tune in to, as well.

Germany actually has speed limits on about 40 percent of its 13,000 km of autobahns, where authorities believe road conditions warrant it and where road repairs are taking place. But the other 60 percent are a territory of freedom unlike anything elsewhere..

The absence of speed limits is a gift from two powerful lobbies: the car-owners’ association ADAC, with more than 20 million members, and the German Association of the Automotive Industry, which represents carmakers and has had close ties to every post-World War II German government.

Germans love fast cars. In 2017, 29 percent of cars registered in Germany had a maximum speed of more than 200 kph. The auto industry loves selling them, making higher profit margins on more powerful cars. That explains large increases in the power of new cars since 2001.

German drivers really use their unusual freedom. Sometimes, doing a relaxed 160 kph on a highway, I barely perceive a Porsche zipping by at 200 kph or more. But many motorists stick to the recommended speed, introduced in 1978, of 130 kph. A government recommendation carries a lot of weight in Germany, and fuel is expensive and environmental awareness widespread.

The German Federal Environmental Agency calculated in 2012 that cutting the speed limit to 120 kph would reduce carbon dioxide emissions from cars on German autobahns by 9 percent, or 3 million tons per year. Environmentalists also argue........

© The Japan Times