Speeds on the Autobahn

Despite the widespread belief of complete freedom from speed limits (and a lobbying effort that has the same influence and deep pockets as the American gun lobby), some speed regulations can be found on the Autobahns. Many sections do indeed have permanent or dynamic speed limits ranging from 80 to 130 km/h (50-80 mph), particularly those with dangerous curves, in urban areas, near major interchanges, or with unusually constant heavy traffic. In construction zones, the limit may be as low as 60 km/h (37 mph). Also, some sections now feature nighttime and wet-weather speed restrictions, and trucks are always regulated (see table below). Still, about two-thirds of the Autobahn network has no speed permanent limit, although there is always an advisory speed limit of 130 km/h (81 mph). This recommendation is generally seen for what it is - an attempt by the government to cover itself without having to upset millions of Porsche and BMW owners (AKA voters). However, if you exceed the advisory limit and are involved in an accident, you could be responsible for some of the damage costs even if you are not at fault.

Maximum speed limits for different kinds of vehicles

130 km/h sign

motorcycle sign

80 km/h sign

car signlorry sign

lorry sign

Some vehicles may be exempted from the 80 km/h limit above. A decal resembling a speed limit sign displayed on the back of a vehicle indicates that it is exempt from the general limit and may travel the speed indicated on the label, usually 100 km/h.

Over 3,200 km of Autobahn now feature dynamic speed limits which are adjusted to respond to traffic, weather, and road conditions. These speed limits and conditions are indicated using a rather elaborate system of electronic signs (see below).

A movement by the environmentalist Green party to enact a national speed limit has not made great strides. The Greens claim that the high speeds contribute to air pollution which has caused widespread Waldsterben, or forest destruction. Some Autobahns in forest areas have seen new limits imposed, but a national limit remains unlikely, as demonstrated during the coalition government negotiations in 1998. In those talks between the then-new Federal Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder's Social Democrat party and the Greens, one of the final points to be resolved was the Greens' desire for a nationwide 100 km/h speed limit on the Autobahns. In the end, a compromise was struck whereby energy taxes would be raised and local governments could reduce speed limits on city streets, but no national Autobahn speed limit would be implemented.

A national speed limit of 100 km/h (60 mph) was enacted in November 1973 during the energy crisis. It was repealed less than four months later.

End of all restrictions sign

"End of all restrictions" sign, indicating
the end of all speed limit and passing restrictions

Accident rates

Despite the prevailing high speeds, the accident, injury and death rates on the Autobahn are remarkably low. The Autobahn carries about a third of all Germany's traffic, but injury accidents on the Autobahn account for only 6% of such accidents nationwide and less than 12% of all traffic fatalities were the result of Autobahn crashes (2004). In fact, the annual fatality rate (3.2 per billion km in 2004) is consistently lower than that of most other superhighway systems, including the US Interstates (5.0 in 2003).