Speed limits in Germany

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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 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 (Straßenverkehrsordnung) 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 nationwide 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,[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 1 September 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[15] and about 10% are equipped with motorway control systems that can show variable speed limits.[16] 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.[17] 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.

History of Autobahn speed limits[edit]

In the wake of the 1973 oil crisis, a federal speed limit of 100 kph (62 mph) on Autobahns was imposed to help save fuel and mitigate impending future shortages. Environmental or safety concerns were not considered at the time. The measure only lasted from December 1973 to March 1974; while the Schmidt administration and the Bundestag were in favor of keeping the speed limit, the Bundesrat successfully pushed to repeal the law in early 1974. As a compromise, a non-binding advisory speed limit (Empfohlene Richtgeschwindigkeit) was later introduced in 1978 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" [18].

As a kind of gentlemen's agreement between the German government and the country's car industry, German automakers then limited their high-performance cars to a top speed of 250 kph (155 mph), a rule that is still adhered to today for standard production cars. The 1978 law is basically still in effect today, although unrestricted non-Autobahn highways have since become virtually non-existent.

In contrast to the idea of being non-binding, a 1992 decision by Germany's Federal Court of Justice stated that the advisory speed limit must be observed, and that a motorist causing an accident at higher speeds cannot claim unforeseeable events as a defense. [19] While this ruling had implications for the liability for accidents above 130 kph, the advisory speed limit still today is not a mandatory top speed as such for travel on stretches of unrestricted Autobahn, and exceeding it is not illegal.

The Umweltbundesamt (Federal Environmental Agency) repeated its recommendation of a binding blanket speed limit in early 2007, but the Merkel administration saw no need for it. A 2007 party convention held by the SPD resulted in the addition of a call for an Autobahn speed limit to the party's platform, against resistance within the SPD's own ranks. Although the SPD was in a government coalition with Angela Merkel's CDU at the time, the administration officially rejected the proposal.

Even without a blanket speed limit, state and even local authorities have the power to restrict speeds. The district of Cologne has posted a speed limit on the heavily frequented Kölner Autobahnring / (Cologne Beltway). Effective 9 April 2008, the City-State of Bremen enacted a 120 kph (75 mph) speed limit as state law, citing environmental concerns. [20] Most Bremen motorways already had some speed restriction due to congestion and noise, and the new measure only affected 11 km (6.8 miles) of previously unrestricted Autobahn.[21]

After over a decade of almost complete absence from political discourse, the issue of imposing a blanket maximum speed limit on German Autobahns was readdressed by a German federal government committee on the future of mobility and emission reduction in January of 2019. In its first preliminary report, the committee recommended higher fuel prices and the introduction of an Autobahn speed limit among other measures. While being hailed by environmentalists as a long overdue step in the right direction, polls suggested that Germans were split almost evenly on the issue. German transport minister Andreas Scheuer collectively called the plans laid out in the report as "going against all common sense". Merkel cabinet speaker Steffen Seibert subsequently clarified that there were no plans for a general speed limit. [22]

Minimum speed[edit]

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[edit]

In 2013, autobahns carried 31% of motorized road traffic while accounting for 13% of Germany's traffic deaths. The autobahn fatality rate of 1.9 deaths per billion-travel-kilometers compared favorably with the 4.7 rate on urban streets and 6.6 rate on rural roads.[23]

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 halved from 945 to 430 deaths.[24] Statistics for 2013 show total German traffic deaths declined to the lowest count ever recorded: 3340; a representative of the Federal Statistical Office attributed the general decline to harsh winter weather that delayed the start of the motorcycle-riding season.[25] However, autobahn deaths increased over 2012 counts (from 387 to 428).[23] Nevertheless autobahn deaths involving trucks have increased, due to more truck traffic and traffic jams caused by roadworks. Whereas accidents without involved trucks are decrasing again.[26]

Road class Injury crashes Fatalities Injury rate* Fatality rate* Fatalities per 1000 injury crashes
Autobahn 18,452 428 82 1.9 23.2
Urban 199,650 977 958 4.7 4.9
Rural 73,003 1,934 249 6.6 26.5
Total 291,105 3,399 401 4.6 11.6
  • per 1,000,000,000 travel-kilometres

Other roads[edit]

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.[27] Lorries, some buses, and cars towing trailers have lower speed limits as well.

In 2015, the German Safety Council recommended that the general limit be set at 80 km/h (50 mph) for rural roads less than six meters wide.[28] The proposed speed would reduce the differential with trucks 3.5 metric tonne trucks, which generally travel at 60 km/h (37 mph). In 2013, rural roads spanned approximately 200,000 kilometers in length, and killed at least 1,934 people.

Town sign indicating the start of an urban area with a limit of 50 km/h
30 km/h zone limit, often found in residential areas

City limits[edit]

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[edit]

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).[29] For coaches and cars with trailers the limit is increased to 100 km/h on autobahns (under certain requirements).[30] 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).[31] There are a few exceptions for army, police, fire brigade or scientific purposes.


  1. ^ http://www.gesetze-im-internet.de/stvo_2013/__3.html
  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]". Süddeutsche Zeitung ("South German Times"). 22 May 2010. Retrieved 2013-09-10. Die Straßenverkehrsordnung vom 28. Mai 1934 sah zum ersten Mal ein allgemeines Tempolimit vor: Innerorts waren maximal 60 km/h erlaubt. Doch außerorts (auch auf den neuen Autobahnen) gab es keine Begrenzung.
  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]". Süddeutsche Zeitung ("South German Times"). 22 May 2010. Retrieved 2013-09-10. Im Oktober 1939 drosselten die Nazis das Tempo. In der Stadt durfte man 40, überall sonst 80 km/h fahren. Offizielle Begründung war die Verkehrssicherheit. In Wirklichkeit sollten die Deutschen mit ihrer gezügelten Fahrweise Benzin sparen, für die Wehrmacht.
  5. ^ "50 Jahre Tempo 50: Im Taumel des Wirtschaftswunders [TRANSLATION: 50 years at 50 km/h: In the Frenzy of the Economic Miracle]". Süddeutsche Zeitung ("South German Times"). 22 May 2010. Retrieved 2013-09-10. 1945 führten die Besatzungsmächte in den einzelnen Zonen unterschiedliche Regelungen ein. Von 1949 an galten dann die Tempolimits der Nazis wieder in ganz Deutschland, sowohl die BRD als auch die DDR übernahmen sie.
  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]". Süddeutsche Zeitung ("South German Times"). 22 May 2010. Retrieved 2013-09-10. Die nächste Episode in der Geschichte des Tempolimits klingt aus heutiger Sicht unglaublich: Im Westen schaffte der Bundestag im Dezember 1952 sämtliche Höchstgeschwindigkeiten ab. Nicht die Nazi-Handschrift war das Problem am Gesetz, sondern Technikbegeisterung, verbunden mit dem allgemeinen Taumel der Wirtschaftswunderzeit.
  7. ^ http://www.spiegel.de/spiegel/print/d-43064362.html
  8. ^ http://www.guvu.de/cms/wp-content/uploads/holz-rau-guvu.pdf
  9. ^ "50 Jahre Tempo 50: Im Taumel des Wirtschaftswunders [TRANSLATION: 50 years at 50 km/h: In the Frenzy of the Economic Miracle]". Süddeutsche Zeitung ("South German Times"). 22 May 2010. Retrieved 2013-09-10. In der Folge stieg die Zahl der Verkehrstoten stark an. Obwohl damals zehn mal weniger Autos angemeldet waren, starben mehr als doppelt so viele Menschen auf den Straßen wie 2006 (5094 Tote). Eine hitzige Diskussion um ein allgemeines Tempolimit entbrannte. Vor allem der CDU-Abgeordnete Oskar Rümmele, damals Vorsitzender des Verkehrsausschusses, setzte sich für eine Höchstgeschwindigkeit ein. Gegen den Widerstand des ADAC und vieler Experten führten Bundestag und Bundesrat zum 1. September 1957 das Tempolimit wieder ein - innerorts galten fortan 50 km/h.
  10. ^ http://www.zeit.de/1984/11/schonzeit-fuer-fussgaenger/komplettansicht
  11. ^ http://www.spiegel.de/spiegel/print/d-13516880.html
  12. ^ "Traffic Safety - The German Experience after Reunification" (PDF). German Society for Technical Cooperation. 2004-11-06. Retrieved 2013-09-11. interim arrangements involved the continuation of the speed limit of 100 km/h on highways and of 80 km/h outside cities and a blood alcohol limit of 0.0 ‰ in the New Laender.
  13. ^ "Traffic Safety - The German Experience after Reunification" (PDF). German Society for Technical Cooperation. 2004-11-06. Retrieved 2009-09-17. The astonishing reduction of traffic accident rates after the German Reunification could only be realised through the coordinated effort of different organisations. Therefore, it is impossible to quantify the impact of a single organisation or programme... The multiplicity of actors can be grouped under four “E”s, which comprehensively cover the field of traffic safety approaches.
  14. ^ Bennhold, Katrin (4 February 2019). "Impose a Speed Limit on the Autobahn? Not So Fast, Many Germans Say". Retrieved 8 February 2019. As far as quasi-religious national obsessions go for large portions of a country’s population, the German aversion to speed limits on the autobahn is up there with gun control in America and whaling in Japan.
  15. ^ Reference
  16. ^ Bundesministerium für Verkehr, Bau- und Wohnungswesen. "Kollektive Verkehrsbeeinflussungsanlagen auf Bundesfernstraßen" (PDF).
  17. ^ German Straßenverkehrs-Ordnung (StVO; Highway code), paragraph 3: Geschwindigkeit (speed), section (1)
  18. ^ "Federal Autobahn Advisory Speed Limit Directive 12-01-1978". Gesetze im Internet. Retrieved 2019-02-12.
  19. ^ "BGH Ruling VI ZR 62/91, 03-17-1992". dejure.org. Retrieved 2019-02-12.
  20. ^ "Speed Limits Come to the Autobahn". Business Week. 2008-04-09. Retrieved 2008-04-11.
  21. ^ "German State Becomes First to Set General Autobahn Speed Limit". Fox News. Associated Press. 2008-04-07. Retrieved 2008-04-07.
  22. ^ "German government rules out autobahn speed limit". DW.com. 2019-01-28. Retrieved 2019-02-12.
  23. ^ a b "Traffic and Accident Data: Summary Statistics – Germany" (PDF). Bundesanstalt für Straßenwesen (Federal Highway Research Institute). September 2015. Retrieved 2016-08-24.
  24. ^ Bundesanstalt für Straßenwesen: Verkehrs- und Unfalldaten
  25. ^ http://www.spiegel.de/auto/aktuell/zahl-der-verkehrstoten-sinkt-mehr-unfalltote-auf-autobahnen-a-955494.html
  26. ^ https://www.wn.de/NRW/3196294-Verkehrsunfallstatistik-Mehr-toedliche-Lkw-Unfaelle-auf-Autobahnen
  27. ^ http://www.spiegel.de/international/germany/dangerous-lanes-german-state-aims-to-curb-tree-deaths-a-791840.html
  28. ^ Kamann, Matthias (2015-01-29). "Gilt bald auf Landstraßen Tempo 80 für alle?". DIE WELT. Retrieved 2017-09-26.
  29. ^ Straßenverkehrs-Ordnung § 3
  30. ^ Straßenverkehrs-Ordnung § 18
  31. ^ Straßenverkehrs-Zulassungs-Ordnung (road traffic admission regulation) § 57c