There’s a popular misconception that there are no speed limits on the Autobahn. About 40% of the German Autobahn system is speed regulated. However, did you immediately catch the significance of that? If 40% is regulated, that means 60% is NOT.
Today’s German Autobahn system stretches 8,047 miles across most of Germany. They post speed limits on the Autobahn near cities and across stretches with a history of accidents. However, even then, the speed limit stays a fast 81 mph.
History of the Autobahn
In 1929, Germany built its first Autobahn link between Opladen and Dusseldorf. After seeing the benefits of this high-speed road system, Adolf Hitler started a program to build two east-west and north-south links. However, despite the propaganda of the time, the Autobahn was not built for military purposes. Before the horrendous acts that led to World War II began to occur in the late 1930s, the Autobahn helped bring Germany out of the depression. The road system allowed Germany to promote economic growth by generating additional jobs in construction.
Initially, the limited-access road was used by the Mercedes-Benz Grand Prix racing team for high-speed record attempts. Rudolf Caracciola set one of the highest speeds for a public roadway during this time. The racing came to an end in 1938 with the tragic death of a popular German race driver, Bern Rosemeyer. Shortly after, when the War broke out, they used the roads for military transport.
After WWII, new sections of the system were added onto the existing Autobahns. Each decade saw additions to the roads until they reached their current span just after the turn of the Millennium.
“The Autobahn” is a Misnomer
Often, foreigners will refer to the German road system as “The Autobahn” when in fact it forms a series of connected roads. Similar to the interstates found in America, these roads have multiple lanes of traffic flowing in two directions. Often, they have a central barrier and shoulders to the side.
In 1974, The German government adopted an autobahn numbering system. Each road identifies itself by a capital “A” followed by a number. Larger autobahns that cross the country have single digits, while shorter roads have double digits.
Some very short stretches of road exist which they designed only for local traffic. Each of these roads uses three digits. They base which digits they use on the direction of travel (e.g. east to west, north to south).
The Speed Limit on the German Autobahns
The autobahns serve as the German freeways. As we already stated, over half of these roads do not post set speed limits. The ones that do serve heavily congested areas near cities. Also, certain stretches of road with dangerous curves have posted regulations.
During inclement weather, parts of the Autobahn system come under speed regulation and they enforce limits set in construction zones.
Posted “recommendations” for speed limits show on the roads where no official speed regulation exists. If a car exceeds the recommendation and causes an accident, they might have liability for damages. However, it’s pretty common to see a Porsche or BMW flying down the road at over 100 mph.
In the late 1990’s, one of Germany’s political parties took up the cause of environmentalism. They claimed that the high speeds were contributing to air pollution and pushed for a national speed limit. They were unsuccessful at imposing the national limit, but they did manage to pass regulations in forested areas.
Autobahn Accident Statistics
Over the past decade, traffic fatalities across all of the European nations have seen a decline. However, a good number of accidents still occur on the Autobahn.
- Out of the total accidents that occurred on the Autobahn, 67% of them happened in areas that featured no posted speed limit.
- Rural road deaths that occurred on the Autobahn were 5 times more than the deaths that occurred in automobile accidents.
- In 2013, deaths on the Autobahn rose by 8% over those in 2012.
For drivers who want to go fast, the Autobahn is perfect. Large stretches of the road have no posted speed limits and other drivers understand how to navigate speeding traffic. With over 8000 miles of road before you, you can drive for days.
How fast can you drive on the Autobahn? As fast as your car can go.