Politics derail road safety drive.
Politics derails road safety moves, not in India but in West Germany. Road safety and the speed limit for vehicles on roads are closely interlinked. Higher the speed, the higher the chances of road mishaps. Still, Germany, famous for its autobahns, is yet to come to terms with this serious issue. Reason: the coalition partners in the government are not on the same page on speed control of vehicles on autobahns.
Germany is a democratic, federal republic. The Center-Left Social Democrats (SPD) lead the three-party coalition government in alliance with the neo-Liberal Free Democrats (FDP) and the Green Party, the environment-friendly junior partner in running the US$4.25trillion (2021) economy.
Germany is projected to post $5.20trillion on the Purchasing Power Parity estimate in 2022. IMF predicts Germany will post a 1.2% GDP growth in the current fiscal as against 2.9% in 2021.
Besides Covid, the Ukraine-Russia war impacted the German economy severely. IMF attributes such lower projections “owing to elevated energy import prices and weak consumer confidence. We expect supply bottlenecks to persist even into 2023.”
Well, the energy bill is the biggest challenge. The government is looking at ways and means to reduce fuel consumption. That’s where the speed control of vehicles on autobahns creeps in as one of the key policy tools.
“The government has taken significant steps to boost energy security, including financing floating terminals to import liquified natural gas, requiring operators to fill gas storage facilities, and expanding its toolkit of emergency legal powers. Further efforts to strengthen energy security could include financial incentives to reduce gas consumption and intensified cooperation within the EU on emergency plans.
The need to enhance energy security creates an opportunity for Germany to build a cleaner economy, less dependent on fossil fuels. A green public investment push is urgently needed to crowd in private investment in clean technologies like renewable power,” points out IMF. (1)
The Federal Statistical Office of Germany reports that the inflation rate is expected to be around 8% in August. “Energy prices, in particular, have increased considerably since the war started in Ukraine and have had a substantial impact on the high inflation rate. Energy prices were 35.6% higher in August 2022 than in August 2021.” (2)
Finance Minister Christian Lindner, chairman of the Free Democrats, suggested compensating motorists to tackle the rising fuel price. Such a proposal was shot down by Economy Minister Robert Habeck, representing the Green Party.
Germans’ love for cars, speed driving, and autobahns need no elaboration. Lindner represents the affluent voters, whose love for fast cars is legendary. On the other hand, the Green Party fights for an environment-friendly policy framework. Given a choice, it would wish to remove personal mobility via cars and vote for public transport to achieve climate change goals. (3)
Expert opinion says that the 48 million vehicles in Germany can help save 2.1billion liters of fuel per year if the speed limit is kept at 100kmph on autobahns. Even with a conservative speed limit of 80kmph, the fuel saving can be 1.9million metric tons per year. Huge savings as well. (4)
From the road safety angle, autobahns with no speed limit have 75 percent more accidents over the roads with speed limits. Still, politics rule the roost. Not to be dislodged from power, the uneasy coalition politics applied brakes on saving the planet through fixed speed limits on autobahns.
In July 2021, Radim Passer, a Czech businessman, drove his Bugatti Chiron at 417kmph speed in some stretches of autobahn between Berlin and Magdeburg in Germany. Expectedly, he landed up in a soup after he posted the video of that maniacal drive on YouTube (5) with a virtual speedometer confirming his driving speed. Around 1.5 million people watched this video, eliciting 12,000 comments.
What is the safety record keeping the speed limit in mind? According to Statista, the autobahn network ranks mid-table for fatalities per 1,000km. Bulgaria ranks worst (83.1 deaths/1000km) with a highway speed of 130kmph, Ireland next with 120kmph and 5.6 deaths/1000km. What about Germany? 30.2 deaths/1000km. (6)
About two-thirds of the autobahn network does not have a speed limit, but there is an advisory speed limit of 130 km/h for environmental and emissions reasons. While drivers aren’t penalized for exceeding it, their liability may increase in the case of an accident.
Speed llimit-free autobahns are fast car enthusiasts’ El Dorado. Speed thrills but kills too. But who cares?
(4) Amid crisis, Germany turns down the heat but won’t limit autobahn speeds, The New York Times, 7 September 2022