每日跟讀#560: Autobahn Speed Limits? Voting With Lead Feet
It seemed like a no-brainer: Lower Germany’s embarrassingly high carbon emissions at no cost, and save some lives in the process.
But when a government-appointed commission in January dared to float the idea of a speed limit on the autobahn, the country’s storied highway network, it almost caused rioting.
Irate drivers took to the airwaves. Union leaders menacingly put on their yellow vests, hinting at street protests. And the far-right opposition used the opportunity to rage against the “stranglehold” of the state.
A highway speed limit was “contrary to every common sense,” the transport minister, Andreas Scheuer, swiftly declared, contradicting his own experts.And that was that.
As far as quasi-religious national obsessions go for large portions of a country’s population, the German aversion to speed limits on the autobahn is up there with gun control in America, whaling in Japan and sovereignty in Britain.
With few exceptions, like Afghanistan and the Isle of Man, there are highway speed limits essentially everywhere else in the world.
But this is Germany, the self-declared “auto nation,” where Carl Benz built the first automobile and where cars are not only the proudest export item but also a symbol of national identity.
It’s also the country where, in darker times, Hitler laid the groundwork for a network of multilane highways that in the postwar years came to epitomize economic success — and freedom.
Call it Germany’s Wild West: The autobahn is the one place in a highly regulated society where no rule is the rule — and that place is sacred.
“It’s a very emotional topic,” confided Stefan Gerwens, head of transport and mobility at ADAC, an automobile club with 20 million members, which is opposed to any speed limit.
So emotional, apparently, that facts and figures count for little.
Germany is woefully behind on meeting its 2020 climate goals, so the government appointed a group of experts to find ways to lower emissions in the transport sector. Cars account for 11 percent of total emissions, and their share is rising.
A highway speed limit of 120 kph, or 75 mph, could cover a fifth of the gap to reach the 2020 goals for the transport sector, environmental experts say.
“Of all the individual measures, it is the one that would be the most impactful — and it costs nothing,” said Dorothee Saar, of Deutsche Umwelthilfe, a nonprofit environmental organization that has lobbied for a speed limit.
“But when it comes to cars,” Saar sighed, “the debate tends to become irrational.”
Source article: https://paper.udn.com/udnpaper/POH0067/337656/web/