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Speed limits in Germany

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Speed limits in Germany

Speed limits in Germany

General speed limits in Germany are set by the federal government. All limits are multiples of 5 km/h. There are two default speed limits: 50 km/h (31 mph) inside built-up areas and 100 km/h (62 mph) outside built-up areas. While parts of the autobahns and many other freeway-style highways have a posted limits up to 130 km/h (81 mph) based on accident experience, congestion and other factors, many rural sections have no general speed limit. The German Highway Code (Straßenverkehrs-Ordnung) section on speed begins with the requirement [1] which may be rendered in English:

Any person driving a vehicle may only drive so fast that the car is under control. Speeds must be adapted to the road, traffic, visibility and weather conditions as well as the personal skills and characteristics of the vehicle and load.

This requirement applies to all roads, and is similar to the "reasonable speed" legal obligation levied in other nations.

Speed limits are enforced with a small tolerance. Driving merely 3 km/h (2 mph) or faster above the posted or implied speed limit is considered a punishable infraction in Germany. The speeding fines are set by federal law (Bußgeldkatalog, schedule of fines).[2]


The Nazi-era Road Traffic Act of 28 May 1934 imposed the first nation-wide speed limit: 60 km/h (37 mph) maximum in urban areas, but no limit on rural highways or autobahns.[3] In October 1939, the Nazis further throttled speeds in order to conserve fuel: 40 km/h (25 mph) in urban areas, 80 km/h (50 mph) elsewhere.[4] After the war, the four Allied occupation zones established their own speed limits until the divided East German and West German republics were constituted in 1949; initially, the Nazi speed limits were restored in both East and West Germany.[5]

In December 1952 the West German legislature voted to abolish all speed limits, seeing them as Nazi relics,[6] reverting to State-level decisions. However, rising traffic fatalities led to a partial reversal: an urban speed limit of 50 km/h (31 mph) became effective September 1, 1957, despite resistance by the German Auto Club.[7][8][9] By 1970, fatalities had climbed to over 19,000; in 1972 a general rural speed limit of 100 km/h (62 mph) went into effect—except on motorways. At 14 November 1983 the Hamburg suburb of Buxtehude had the first implementation of 30 km/h (19 mph) limits in residential areas,[10] a concept that became popular.[11]

East Germany's safety efforts primarily focused on restrictive traffic regulation; for examples, zero alcohol tolerance, 100 km/h (62 mph) on autobahns and 80 km/h (50 mph) outside cities. Within two years after German reunification in 1990, the availability of high-powered vehicles and a 54% increase in motorized traffic led to a doubling of annual traffic deaths, despite interim continuation of prior speed restrictions.[12] An extensive program of the four Es (enforcement, education, engineering, and emergency response) brought the number of traffic deaths back to pre-unification levels after ten years while traffic regulations were conformed to western standards (e.g., 130 km/h (81 mph) Autobahn advisory limit, 100 km/h (62 mph) on other rural roads, and 0.5 milligrams BAC.[13]


traffic sign indicating end of all restrictions (including speed limits)

German autobahns are famous for having no universal motorway speed limit, although slightly more than 50% of them have posted speed limits[14] and about 10% are equipped with motorway control systems that can show variable speed limits.[15] There is no national speed limit, either, for cars and motorcycles on any highway outside of towns if it has a central reservation or a minimum of two marked lanes per direction. Due to this it is common to be overtaken by cars or motorcycles travelling over 200 km/h (125 mph). On such roads, as well as motorways, a recommended speed limit (Richtgeschwindigkeit) of 130 km/h (81 mph) applies. While driving at higher speeds is not punishable, the increased risk induced by higher speeds (erhöhte Betriebsgefahr) may result in partial liability for damages. Moreover, the law forbids travel at speeds that would extend the vehicle's minimum halting distance beyond the driver's line of sight.[16] On all German roads, there are speed limits for trucks, buses, cars towing trailers, and small motorised vehicles (Mopeds, etc.).

The introduction of a national speed limit for motorways and similar roads has been on the agenda of various political and environmentalist groups for decades, but at present, there are still no definite plans on behalf of the federal government regarding the matter.


In 1973, in the wake of the 1973 oil crisis, a federal speed limit of 100 km/h (62 mph) on Autobahns was imposed to help conserve fuel for fear of impending future shortages (not for environmental or safety reasons). The measure only lasted from December 1973 to March 1974; while the administration and the Bundestag were in favor of keeping the speed limit, the Bundesrat pushed to repeal the law. As a compromise, a recommended speed was introduced on Autobahns and "highways outside of built-up areas with a center divide or without a center divide and a continuous lane for overtaking in both directions". This law is basically still in effect today. Unrestricted non-Autobahn highways, however, have since become virtually non-existent or replaced by Schnellstraßen, Autobahn-like expressways typically limited of to 120 or 130 km/h and normally only covering a few kilometers.

The Umweltbundesamt (Federal Environmental Agency) repeated its recommendation of such regulation in early 2007, but the Merkel administration saw no need for it. Even after a 2007 party congress held by the SPD, then one of Germany's governing parties, where a proposal to impose a blanket speed limit was approved, there was outspoken opposition within the administration. At present, it is generally thought that a blanket speed limit would not be significantly beneficial, regarding both environmental and climate concerns and road safety. Current estimates conclude that a speed limit would reduce Germany's overall CO2 emission by a mere fraction of a percent, and in terms of highway safety, German Autobahns are among the world's safest.

Legally, however, state and even local authorities have the power to enact speed limits. The district of Cologne has posted a speed limit on the heavily frequented Cologne Beltway. Effective April 9, 2008, the City-State of Bremen began enforcing a general 120 km/h (75 mph) speed limit, citing environmental concerns. However, Bremen's new limit only impacted an additional 11 kilometers of Bremen's 60 kilometers of Autobahn;[17] most Bremen motorways already had some speed restriction due to congestion and noise.[18]

In 2006, half of German motorways had no maximum speed limit at any time of day or under any traffic conditions.[19] Roughly one third of regulated roads have computer-controlled traffic guiding systems with variable electronic signs along carriageways showing the set speed limit, or, current road conditions and traffic density allowing, indicating that no speed limit is set at the moment.

Minimum speed

Posted minimum speeds usually only apply to specific lanes like the common configuration on 6-lane roads with a minimum speed of 110 km/h (68 mph) on the left and 90 km/h (56 mph) on the center lane. Vehicles which cannot sustain speeds of 60 km/h (37 mph) on the flat are not allowed on the Autobahn, however. Because of this, many European self-propelled cranes and other extra-heavy trucks which would be unsafe at much higher speeds, but similarly unsafe or impractical (and certainly obstructive) to drive for long distances on surface streets between job sites and depots, are engineered with maximum design speeds a little over 60 km/h - typically 62 km/h (39 mph) at governed engine speed in top gear.

Accident statistics

In 2012, autobahns carried 31% of motorized road traffic while accounting for 11% of Germany's traffic deaths. The autobahn fatality rate of 1.7 deaths per billion-travel-kilometers compared favorably with the 5.1 rate on urban streets and 7.6 rate on rural roads.[20] On autobahns 22 people died per 1000 injury crashes; a lower rate than the 29 deaths per 1,000 injury accidents on rural roads, which in turn is five times higher than the risk on urban streets – speeds are higher on rural roads and autobahns than urban streets, increasing the severity potential of a crash.[21]

Between 1970 and 2010, overall German road fatalities decreased by almost 80%: from 19,193 to 3,648; over the same time-period, Autobahn deaths decreased from 945 to 430 deaths.[20]

Other Roads

Rural roads, except for motorways or other designated fast roads, have a speed limit of 100 km/h (62 mph), which is routinely reduced to 70 km/h (43 mph) or 80 km/h (50 mph) where the road approaches a junction with a significant side-road. Tree-lined scenic routes, such as the German Avenue Road, often have 70 km/h (43 mph) limits.[22] Lorries, some buses, and cars towing trailers have lower speed limits as well.

Town sign (of Wilster) indicating the city limit of 50 km/h
30 km/h zone limit, often found in residential areas

City limits

There is a general speed limit within built up areas, which are marked by distinctive rectangular yellow signs showing the name of the village, town or city, of 50 km/h (31 mph) but residential areas usually have a lower posted speed limit of 30 km/h (18 mph). On arterial roads, the speed limit may be raised to 60 or 70 km/h (37 to 43 mph); this higher speed limit will be posted in the usual way. Motorways crossing cities count as normal Autobahns and can be used for travel within larger cities in many cases.

Minimum speeds are very rarely marked in Germany.

Truck speed limits

There is a general speed limit of 80 km/h (50 mph) for trucks with a GVWR over 3,500 kg (7,716 lbs) and for vehicles with trailers. For vehicles with a GVWR of over 7,500 kg (16,534 lbs) the limit is set to 60 km/h (37 mph) except on autobahns (also 80 km/h).[23] For coaches and cars with trailers the limit is increased to 100 km/h on autobahns (under certain requirements).[24] Posted speed signs for trucks are not common, they can be seen on some dangerous curves or descents.

Trucks over 3,500 kg are required to have a built-in speed limiter for a maximum speed of 90 km/h (56 mph), and buses for a maximum speed of 100 km/h (62 mph).[25] There are a few exceptions for army, police, fire brigade or scientific purposes.


  1. ^
  2. ^ Bußgeldkatalog
  3. ^ "50 Jahre Tempo 50: Im Taumel des Wirtschaftswunders [TRANSLATION: 50 years at 50 km/h: In the Frenzy of the Economic Miracle]".  
  4. ^ "50 Jahre Tempo 50: Im Taumel des Wirtschaftswunders: Für das fehlende Tempolimit auf Autobahnen ist Deutschland weltberühmt. [TRANSLATION: 50 years at 50 km/h: In the Frenzy of the Economic Miracle]".  
  5. ^ "50 Jahre Tempo 50: Im Taumel des Wirtschaftswunders [TRANSLATION: 50 years at 50 km/h: In the Frenzy of the Economic Miracle]".  
  6. ^ "50 Jahre Tempo 50: Im Taumel des Wirtschaftswunders: Für das fehlende Tempolimit auf Autobahnen ist Deutschland weltberühmt. Was kaum einer weiß: Bis zum 1. September 1957 gab es in der BRD überhaupt kein Limit. Selbst innerorts durfte gerast werden.[TRANSLATION: 50 years at 50 km/h: In the Frenzy of the Economic Miracle: Germany is world famous for unlimited speeds on motorways. But few know that until 1 September 1957 there were no limits at all; race speeds were legal even in towns]".  
  7. ^
  8. ^
  9. ^ "50 Jahre Tempo 50: Im Taumel des Wirtschaftswunders [TRANSLATION: 50 years at 50 km/h: In the Frenzy of the Economic Miracle]".  
  10. ^
  11. ^
  12. ^ "Traffic Safety - The German Experience after Reunification" (PDF).  
  13. ^ "Traffic Safety - The German Experience after Reunification" (PDF).  
  14. ^ Reference
  15. ^ Bundesministerium für Verkehr, Bau- und Wohnungswesen. "Kollektive Verkehrsbeeinflussungsanlagen auf Bundesfernstraßen" (PDF). 
  16. ^ German Straßenverkehrs-Ordnung (StVO; Highway code), paragraph 3: Geschwindigkeit (speed), section (1)
  17. ^ "Speed Limits Come to the Autobahn". Business Week. 2008-04-09. Retrieved 2008-04-11. 
  18. ^ "German State Becomes First to Set General Autobahn Speed Limit". Fox News. Associated Press. 2008-04-07. Retrieved 2008-04-07. 
  19. ^,templateId%3Draw,property%3DpublicationFile.pdf/V1-BAB-Tempolimit-2008.pdf&prev=/
  20. ^ a b (December 2012). "Traffic and Accident Data: Summary Statistics - Germany" (PDF). Bundesanstalt für Straßenwesen (Federal Highway Research Institute). Bundesanstalt für Straßenwesen. Retrieved 2013-09-10. 
  21. ^ (10 July 2013). "Unfallentwicklung auf deutschen Straßen 2012 (Crashes on German Roads 2012)" (PDF). Statistisches Bundesamt (Federal Statistics Office). Statistisches Bundesamt. Retrieved 2013-09-23. Mit 29 Getöteten je 1 000 Unfälle mit Personenschaden ist das Todesrisiko auf Landstraßen fünfmal höher als auf Innerortsstraßen und auch höher als auf Autobahnen, auf denen 22 Personen je 1 000 Unfälle starben. 
  22. ^
  23. ^ Straßenverkehrs-Ordnung § 3
  24. ^ Straßenverkehrs-Ordnung § 18
  25. ^ Straßenverkehrs-Zulassungs-Ordnung (road traffic admission regulation) § 57c
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