Earlier this week we learned of an official report suggesting the German government could bring an end to derestricted Autobahns in order to cut emissions. All EU governments are bound by carbon reduction targets set out in law with huge fines for failing to meet them. Make no mistake; this suggestion will be taken seriously.
Motorways without speed limits are as German as currywurst. It’s hard to picture a Germany where they were no longer a fact of life. Their presence is a statement that the German driver knows what he or she is doing. It’s an implicit ‘we’ve got this,’ thanks to excellent training and a very German ability to maintain focus and control.
The times are a’changing, though, and faster than ever. The last 20 years have probably seen greater societal change than the previous 50. Crucially, people are changing as quickly as the times.
The German youth is changing too, in its own fashion. Backed by younger, safety-minded people Germany could, very feasibly, decide to call time on the derestricted Autobahn. Der Spiegel reports 51 per cent of nationals are in favour of a universal limit.
The idea of a public road where you can hit 200mph could be seen, in a Europe where safety has become an excuse to put a stop anything that could be considered even remotely dangerous, as an outrageous anachronism. From some points of view it’s a miracle that any sections of free-and-easy Autobahn still survive at all.
If you can’t play football in the road without the people at number 59 calling the police, how on earth can you legally pass a truck with a speed differential of 150mph? There’s also a lot more traffic than ever, and more danger of hitting another car in a speed-related whoopsie. These are the sorts of arguments a modern Germany might offer. The token reduction of emissions – not many people actually drive flat-out because of the horrendous fuel economy implications – is really just a sweetener to a deal that, as the Fun Police seem to close in on every side, seems in some ways inevitable.
But it shouldn’t be. We would beg the German government, if we thought they’d even notice, to keep the continent’s last bastion of skills-centric high-speed driving intact. It’s a place where you can choose to drive at the proposed 130kph limit if you want to. It’s also a place where you can creep over that without fear of a hefty fine. Then, when your mind is in the zone, you can chase your 155mph limiter and feel very much alive for a minute or two.
The Germans have always treated this not inconsiderable responsibility with great respect. Through 30kph (19mph) zones they stick to the limit like glue. Where signs urge caution, the average German driver makes safety their priority. They earn their right to limit-free highways by behaving impeccably everywhere else. We get that. We admire it, even if our traditional British impatience means we can’t always emulate it.
Germany deserves its derestricted motorways. Just as much as the desire for independence from authority is part of the British persona, the German urge to focus and stay within the lines is an almost tangible part of the national identity. And that’s a good thing to know when a Ferrari passes you at the top of seventh.