In Germany, Speed Limits Are 'An Affront to Masculinity'

CC BY 2.0. going 200 km/h on the Autobahn/ Lloyd Alter

Limits would save lives and significantly reduce carbon emissions, but let's keep our priorities straight.

The first time I went to Germany I was picked up in Dusseldorf and driven to Essen on the autobahn at close to 200 km/hr (124 MPH) and was terrified. The driver told me to relax, that German drivers were all very well trained and driving well-maintained cars; he said they're perfectly capable of driving this fast, and that they do not need speed limits.

Now there is some talk of imposing limits in order to reduce carbon emissions. According to Katrin Bennhold, writing in the New York Times,

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 kilometers an hour, or 75 miles per hour, could cover a fifth of the gap to reach the 2020 goals for the transport sector, environmental experts say.

But it is unlikely to happen; apparently this issue is like gun control in the States. In fact, according to Bennhold, “Freie Fahrt für freie Bürger!” campaign – or “Freedom to drive for free citizens!” – has become a sort of unwritten second amendment.

“To many people, the idea of a speed limit feels like an affront to masculinity, like we’re getting softer, we’re degenerating,” said Erhard Schütz, a retired professor and expert on the autobahn’s history.

But it is a dangerous toxic masculinity, much the same as we see in North America with big pickup trucks and spiked lug nuts. Besides the CO2, there is a much higher rate of deaths caused by inappropriate speeding. But this is all about freedom to drive!

“Germany is terribly regulated, for reasons which have to do with the past, with a fear of uncertainty, a fear of being overwhelmed,” [former ambassador] Mr. Kornblum said. “But then people look for their little spaces of freedom and the autobahn is one of them.”


BMW I8/ Lloyd Alter/CC BY 2.0

Perhaps another approach to reducing carbon is just to ban internal combustion engines and let everyone drive electric rockets as fast as they want.