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I wonder what are the historical circumstances that led to lack of speed limit on German federal Autobahn network. There is an advisory 130 km/h limit, but it is not mandatory one nor obeyed practically. (As a side note, Wikipedia says, there used to be a mandatory 100 km/h limit in former GDR and it was not retained after re-unification.)

Please provide the reasons (plus sources) that would differentiate Germany from
other "comparable" countries (for example, France) that did introduce the limit on some historical occasion.

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Great question. –  Monster Truck Nov 19 '12 at 16:10
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I'd upvote, but I don't want to ruin your perfect 1000. –  American Luke Nov 19 '12 at 21:41
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Can't find any sources for this, so treat it as an anecdote: When I asked more or less the same (in Berlin, while renting a 911 for the sole purpose of going crazy in the Autobahn) the answer was very simple, the "no speed limit" was to keep voters and the local industry happy. Germany has a long tradition in car manufacturing, and in certain areas almost everyone is tied to the auto industry and letting people drive their cars to the max is very good for sales. –  Yannis Rizos Nov 19 '12 at 22:46
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Well, why won't anybody ask "why there is limit outside Germany?" Why do we all agree that limits are good? –  Voitcus Jun 17 '13 at 12:40

3 Answers 3

The question should be why are there speed limits for driving in other countries? There is no limit as to how fast you can walk, run, ride a bicycle, or various other forms of travel. Even planes and ships do not have speed limits - so why should automobiles? They really shouldn't.

It is mostly a ploy to get money - fine people who are going "too fast" under the guise of "safety" - it's a shame that so many people have fallen for it and are even okay with it.

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Historically, all over the world the limits were set to limit deaths in road accidents. Your extraordinary claims would need to be backed up by extraordinary historical sources. –  kubanczyk Sep 30 '13 at 16:08
    
@kubanczyk - Quite contrary, many studies have been done that shows that lower speed limits result in more crashes. Most people prefer to drive around 75-85 mph. When a speed limit is posted lower than that, you get people going the "normal" speed as well as many going "too slow" (the speed limit). When the speed limit is posted at 75+ there are less accidents because everyone goes the same speed, and when there are no speed limits, everyone still goes about the same speed (as in Germany) because that is the speed they are comfortable driving at. Ergo, there is no need for speed limits. –  ZeekLTK Sep 30 '13 at 17:30
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This is off-topic. –  kubanczyk Sep 30 '13 at 17:39
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@ZeekLTK: I happen to believe in your sentiment - but this is a horrible answers as it stands. –  Pieter Geerkens Oct 3 '13 at 2:48
    
@ZeekLTK Trust me, not everybody goes about the same speed in Germany when there is no speed limit. A Golf overtaking lorries at 150 km/h may have a 240 km/h car almost in his trunk seemingly out of nowhere. The comparison to planes and ships that mostly operate outside any national jurisdiction makes no sense (and ships do have speed limits near coasts, not to mention that in many ports, channels and other special regions, the captain is practically deprived when pilots are required. –  Hagen von Eitzen Apr 29 at 6:00

Before the war, only a limit of 30 km/h inside towns was in force, but no other general speed limits.

In the Third Reich, there was a general speed limit of 40km/h inside of towns, and 80km/h outside. This was mostly to conserve resources for the war (and because several high ranking Nazis had been killed in accidents on the new Autobahnen). Being a war-time law, it was nullified in 1952 by the Bundestag - without replacement. At that time, most European countries didn't have speed limits.

Up to 1957, no speed limits were in force in (West) Germany at all. In 1957, a speed limit of 50 km/h inside towns was introduced. Only in 1972, a speed limit of 100 km/h on roads outside of cities (except on the Autobahn and on Autostraßen with at least 2 lanes per direction of traffic) was introduced.

A good overview of the 50 km/h limit can be found here (in German).

A general speed limit was often discussed (see the second article quoted by Hauser), but never introduced. In a recent poll, 89 percent were against a general speed limit on Autobahnen. Politicians don't want o oppose this.

Also, German car manufacturers say that most of the inventions they made (especially for security), were made because they were needed to safely travel at high speeds. On a more practical level, they fear for their position in the market, as they make the kind of cars that are best for the Autobahn. They have the money (to contribute to parties and candidates) and one of the killer arguments ("every seventh job in Germany directly or indirectly is dependent on making cars"), and they use both.

A long (and somewhat unstructured) article on that topic can be found in Der SPIEGEL.

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Let me answer as a German with an analogy.

You can compare the German speed limit to weapon ownership in US. Any party suggesting introduction of a general speed limit would conduct political suicide and face serious debates with the automobile lobby and voters (most workplaces here come from this branch). Most rational arguments points towards a speed limit (less traffic jam/noise, environmental pollution...), but similar to US weapon industry, there are to many automobile fanatics in all political parties (either green, liberal, democrats, conservative). You can only lose voters with this topic.

The historical circumstances are simply that a lot of automobile inventions were made in Germany, the car is a status symbol for many here.

These articles sheds some light on the special situation in Germany:

When the introduction of a national speed limit for Germany's Autobahns (motorways and highways) was discussed in the 1980s, automobile associations of all kinds demanded the "Freedom of the roads for free citizens" – with at least some success back then. And even today, Germany still does not have a general speed limit. Although a maximum speed of 130 km/h is recommended, where no road sign expressly indicates this speed limit, drivers can decide for themselves how fast they would like to travel. If you should pick up a few angry comments about "Points in Flensburg" during a conversation, you can be sure that those involved are talking about the Kraftfahrt-Bundesamt (Federal Motor Transport Authority). Some 7.1 million car drivers are currently listed there. All of them ignored the signs and were caught driving too fast. The quicker they were travelling, the higher the fine and the number of points they collected. Travelling in your own car

Germany is seen as a country of car enthusiasts. No wonder then that this is where the first motor vehicle was invented. Today, the automotive industry is one of the country's largest employers. There is practically no other item that Germans would spend as much money on as a car. For students, having their own car is generally a luxury. The prices for petrol and diesel are higher than in other European countries and the required third-party insurance (Haftpflichtversicherung) also costs a lot of money. And still, many afford themselves the luxury of a car of their own.

Further:

The German "Economic Miracle" of the Fifties and Sixties were boom times for the car and road building industry. It was not until the world oil crisis of the early Seventies that the country's politicians were forced to contemplate the idea of speed restrictions on Autobhans. The then West German government reacted by imposing a ban on Sunday driving and introducing a 100kph speed limit for the duration of the crisis.

During the 111 days that the speed limit was in force, Germany's equivalent of Britain's Automobile Association, the 16-million member ADAC, got wind of government plans to make the restriction permanent. The immensely powerful organisation responded by promoting a slogan which has now become part of everyday German vocabulary: "Freie Fahrt Für Frei Bürger", which translates prosaically into (Limit) Free Driving for Free Citizens.

The massive public opposition to Autobahn speed limits that ensued had, until yesterday, stopped the idea from ever being taken up again by either of Germany's two main parties. Safety has hardly been an issue either, in fact the government has mounted campaigns stressing how statistically safe the Autobahn is in comparison to two-lane highways.

The German car lobby, headed by the influential giants, Mercedes, Volkswagen, Porsche and BMW, has for decades persuaded the political establishment to reject the idea of blanket motorway speed limits. To ensure the co-operation of the main parties, Daimler, BMW and Porsche donated a total of 2m (£1.4m) to them in the run up to Germany's 2005 general election.

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This answer is as good when I substitute "French" for "German". –  kubanczyk Nov 20 '12 at 7:54
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@kubanczyk I cannot really name empirical or rational arguments,as this is a matter of culture, similar to weapon ownership in US. It just did grow this way (there was ever a strong automobile industry in Germany, machine engineering is one of the most important industrial sectors here). A french car doesn't have the status character of a german Mercedes, BMW, Audi, Porsche all over the world. Formula One is a very popular sport here too. I cannot explain why the french like it so much to eat and bake baguette bread, this is simply culture grown over decades and because they invented good food –  Hauser Nov 20 '12 at 10:00
    
@YannisRizos This is the first local district president from a green party ever here in Germany, of course speed limit is no timeless law here, the status character of cars here vanishes too, smartphone is more important than own car for many kids here nowadays. Nonentheless I strongly doubt a nationwide speed limit will be introduced in Germany in the next 2 decades. The green party won in this district because of Fukushima and a environmental political agenda know plays a more important role for the voters here, but this can also be just a temporal effect until Fukushima is forgotten... –  Hauser Nov 20 '12 at 10:04
    
I have absolutely no idea about German politics, I just found that article while I was researching my answer here (since abandoned) and I thought it would be interesting to share. –  Yannis Rizos Nov 20 '12 at 10:08

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