Freedom vs safety – how fast should you be able to drive on highways?

Hi, this is Daniela. I am responsible for the administrative side and everything organizational at Datawrapper. In this Weekly Chart, I will take a look at the speed limits on highways throughout Europe.

During the Christmas season, many people visit their families all over the world. Others use the Christmas holidays to take a vacation and to travel. This fact made me think about speed limit policies throughout Europe: How fast can you drive in each country?

As we see on the map, speed limits on highways range between 100 km/h and 140 km/h. In addition, in some countries like Estonia and Finland, the speed limit differs during the summer and winter months.

Germany is the only European country (and one of the very few in the world besides Afghanistan, Bhutan, Haiti, Nepal, Somalia) without speed limits on highways. Although there is a recommended speed of 130 km/h, nobody must stick to it.

Why does Germany still have no speed limit?

In my perception, fewer subjects in Germany are discussed as passionately as the speed limit on highways. The introduction of a speed limit on German highways is a topic that occupies politics over and over again. Recently, an attempt by the green party „Die Grünen“ to introduce a general speed limit on German highways had failed in October 2019 in the Bundestag (German Parliament). The party wanted a speed limit on highways of 130 kilometers per hour, to come into effect on the 1st of January, 2020.

Let´s take a short look at the pros and cons which are discussed in Germany:

PRO: Above all environmental associations, climate activists and the trade union of the police recommend the speed limit. They argue that excessive speed and rage are still the biggest contributors to road accidents. Besides, a speed limit could lead to steadier traffic flow and less traffic congestion. Frequent lane changes by fast drivers who want to overtake other road users driving at the recommended speed of 130 km/h could also be avoided. So a speed limit means fewer traffic jams, less mileage, less CO2 output, less stress – for all involved.

CONTRA: Many opponents of the introduction of a general maximum speed call the speed limit an attack on their freedom and they are afraid of driving becoming less pleasurable. Besides, German car clubs doubt that a general speed limit would lead to fewer traffic accidents, because German streets are seen as relatively safe and highways belong to the safest roads in Germany. So car clubs argue that speed limits on accident-prone stretches and architectural safety measures would be more useful than a general speed limit.

Also, a lot of the opponents take the position that a speed limit would not contribute to climate protection. For example, the Federal Minister of Transport Andreas Scheuer (CSU) lists the reduction of the CO2 output at less than 0.5 percent.

A different approach in the Netherlands

In other countries, a decision has already been made: In November 2019, the Netherlands introduced a speed limit of 100 km/h on highways to lower the issues of nitric oxides.

After the introduction of a speed limit on highways in the Netherlands, the debate on a speed limit has broken out in Germany again. A survey has shown that more than every second German supports a speed limit of 130 km/h on the highway. Only 41 percent are against it. In my opinion, this fact alone should convince the politicians to introduce a maximum speed limit on highways.

No matter in which country you are and where you want to travel over Christmas: If you are traveling by car, keeping to the speed limit is only the obvious start. In principle, we should always be forward-looking and considerate when driving. The other road users will thank us and hopefully, we will arrive safely to be with our families. We’ll see you next week!