Highways without speed limits

A recent thread on Americans speeding in Saskatchewan combined with a comedy routine on how the Autobahn became popular because you could “just f**king drive” made me wonder about the wisdom of highways without a strict speed limit.

Why haven’t these caught on worldwide? Is it because they are hideously unsafe? Is the accident rate in Germany reasonable compared to other highways?

Just off the top of my head, I believe the Autobahn is actually pretty safe, or at least safer than what people from the US expect it to be because people don’t drive on it like people from the US think they would. It’s my understanding that it’s not filled to the brim with with kids driving 150mph day in and day out.

I saw some doc on it not that long ago, I’ll have to see if I can find it. But a combination of the entire thing not actually having no speed limit, people generally respecting an unwritten speed limit, anyone driving faster than some certain speed is often considered the one at fault in an accident, only cars and motorcycles not having a speed limit (trucks and buses do) and German drivers getting a whole lot more training than Americans before receiving their license makes things safer…or at least safer than you’d expect.

ETA, I believe this is the video I was thinking of while writing my post.

My time in Germany was many years ago at this point but some things became very clear to me about the driving there. Many of the misconceptions that Americans have about it were the same then and now.

Germans drive like assholes in the city. I don’t think any country is exempt from that. Some countries are worse than others but none are good. But they know how to drive on highways and everyone does otherwise there would be carnage everyday. Rules that are routinely ignored in America would get you killed. You stay to the right unless passing. You never pass on the right. Even if you are driving fast, if someone is driving faster you pull to the right and let them. If someone comes up behind you and flashes their lights you you move over. You don’t get pissed and brake check them.

Most of the autobahn that I was on had speed limits. The highways near big cities had speed limits. The roads were engineered for those speeds. American speed limits especially when it comes to curves tend to give a lot of fudge factor. In Germany the speed limits on curves are set at that for a reason.

Some Autobahns have speed limits. The main rule is that the right lane (or far right lane) is the travel lane. The left lane is ONLY for passing. The hot foot in a race car often cruises the left lane with his left blinker on, to indicate he is “passing.”

In Germany, the tires are rated for speed. If you constantly travel at 150 kph, you damn well better have tires rated for that speed. Should you wreck your car, you’ll receive a ticket, no matter who is at fault.

Germans love their beer. But the German government holds a hard line against drinking and driving. I think their max BAC is less than the US *, and it is strictly enforced. If a driver is suspected of DWI, the Germans don’t want a Breathalyzer. They literally want blood. Uncooperative drivers who do not allow blood to be drawn can be held down forcefully to get the blood.

Germans pay a lot of money to get a driver license. Their cars are not cheap, and their insurance is astronomical. Yet once they meet all the criteria, you’d think it is a God given right to own the road.

All of the safety features the US requires to be standard on any car are not required by Germany. You’d think the lack of speed limits would lend itself to safety features, but…


  • I’m not sure what the BAC is for intoxication, this may need to be corrected

Montana briefly experimented with something similar. The catch is, they didn’t actually eliminate speed limits on the freeways: They eliminated numerical speed limits. As with every jurisdiction in the US, there was still a law that drivers must drive at a “reasonable and prudent” speed. There just wasn’t any set value at what was, in ordinary conditions, considered “reasonable and prudent”.

It didn’t work, and so they put numerical limits back a few years later. The limits were still significantly higher than most of the US, but there were numerical limits.

This was my experience, as well. I particularly liked the “no passing on the right” law. You could, quite literally, move from the left lane into the right lane without checking your mirror.

I would add that the few accidents that I saw on the autobahns were spectacular in nature, with car parts strewn for hundreds of feet.

I haven’t driven on German highways in 20 years now, but this was the situation in Germany as I understood it. You weren’t free to go as fast as you wanted. You still had to drive at a safe speed.

However, as others point out, the left lane there is just for passing. Driving in it when somebody wants to pass you generates a very negative reaction indeed.

The “reasonable and prudent” limit (or “Basic Rule”) was standard on Montana highways until the national 55 mph limit was imposed in 1974, and in my recollection it worked pretty well because people understood it. The problem was that after it went back into effect in 1996, the “Montanabahn” rumor spread among the yahoos and enough of them started treating highways like the Bonneville Salt Flats that it had to be scrapped in favor of numerical limits.

Canada does not have the weather for highways without speed limits. Would it be a god idea anywhere else?

Good knows.

Gooddamn spelling (mutter, mutter)…

The Northern Territory, Australia, didn’t have a speed limit outside of towns when I was living there. They’ve since moved to a 130 kph speed limit so there must’ve been some problems with it.

I drove from the very north of Germany to the very south (and back) in September this year. There are very few stretches without speed limit: Generally it’s 120 kph, with frequent points were road repair makes for stop and go traffic for long stretches.

The fact is that even though they are expanding and constantly repairing, it’s just so congested* that “no speed limit” doesn’t really exist. I think there are some places in former DDR with light traffic, where you can do 300 kph an early Sunday morning in June, weather permitting.

*A small accident or some roadworks near Hamburg will force most of the NW of the country to a near stand still. I picked time of day and weekday in the hope of passing Hamburg effortlessly. It went well. Don’t drive around Hamburg during rush hour, in the rain in winter. It’ll be faster to walk.

The typical question asked by US GIs in Germany who obtain a car and license (and insurance) is, “Oh, does this mean I can drive 100mph on that Autobahn now?”

If you drive in a rural area with very light traffic, the aforementioned hot foot race car drivers are flying down the left hand lane, with their left blinker on, of course. The rest of the population will be in the right lane, and the general speed picks up quite a bit, having been inspired by said HFRC drivers.

I have told people, “Ha! 100 mph is the guy on the shoulder with a flat!”


The accident rate in Germany is not too high, not on Autobahnen anyway (the rural environement is another story altogether: bored kids with good roads are a bad mix). But there are often speed limits. Here you can find a map with the unrestricted parts, it is only a fraction of the total. The bits without limit are very well built, they have wide shoulders and mostly three lanes.
The feeling is a different matter: I often drive between Brussels, in Belgium (speed limit 120 km/h, about 75 mph) and Berlin. As soon as you cross the border to Germany the driving gets more stressful. I like driving at around 140-150 km/h in good driving conditions, but you have to watch your rear mirror constantly when you want to overtake the lorries, as often a spec in the distance turns out to be a really fast car that is just behind you before you have overtaken the other vehicles. Quite unpleasant.
Then there is the so called Richtgeschwindigkeit, which translates as the orientative speed: it is set at 130 km/h. Drive any faster at your peril. If you have an accident you will be assigned a part of the blame, never mind whether you caused the accident or not.
If you get caught speeding in a limited stretch it gets expensive and you lose points and your driving license faster than a Porsche accelerates.
And the sentiment has been turning against speeding for some time. There is the ADAC, the German Automobile Club, which has a similar attitude to speeding as the NRA in the USA has to shooting. But many people are increasingly fed up. It has been the the manifesto of the Greeen Party for ages to limit the max. speed to as low as 100 km/h (about 60 mph). Soon they will be in government again. They will not get their wish now, but with climate change an increasingly convincing argument, it is only a matter of time until speed is restricted in germany too, IMHO.
In Berlin the hostility against cars in general is patent with the current local government (which includes the Green Party in coalition with the social democrats), more and more streets are turned into pedestrian streets and the median speed of cars is under 10 mph, even less during the rush hour.

Well the German motorways, though safe in general, don’t rate too highly when compared to say, Denmark or the UK.
The unrestricted parts also seem to be associated with higher death rates than those with speed limits.

Research by the German Road Safety Council (DVR), ETSC’s German member, has shown that there are, on average, 25% more deaths on sections of the autobahn without speed limits compared to those with a limit.

Der Spiegel has also pointed to before and after studies when a 130km/h limit was introduced on sections of the autobahn – and found that deaths and serious injuries reduced considerably.

Make of that what you will.

When last I checked (2015), less than 12 percent of Germany’s autobahn network allowed unrestricted speeds. Almost all of that is in rural areas with little traffic.

I find driving on most European superhighways somewhat nerve-wracking—not because of Mercs and Beemers flying low, but because trucks are generally limited to speeds 20 or 30 kph below auto traffic. This means you’re constantly having to move over to pass a truck, then move right back so you can be passed by someone behind you. After a couple of hours, one longs for the leisurely “cruise control passing” of western American interstates, where you take two miles at 77 mph passing someone only doing 75.

I could come up with a comedy routine about B.C. drivers in Washington. :stuck_out_tongue:

This is pretty much what I was told by a highway patrolman I spoke to when I was out there in 1996. He said it wasn’t going to last and he was right.
Teams were going out there and racing at insane speeds (125+). And there were legal disputes over what was “Reasonable and Prudent”. There was no consistency.

When we were out there the general flow of traffic was about 85-90 mph. I know I was hit with radar going 96 but nothing happened. That trooper must have considered it reasonable and prudent.

Maybe you can answer a question I’ve had for years. I didn’t live in Montana before the 55 mph limit, though I did during the 55 mph time and drove there often during Reasonable and Prudent 2. The law wasn’t scrapped because people were driving like bats out of Helena:

In March 1996, Stanko was ticketed for traveling 85 mph on Montana State Highway 200. He contested the charge in justice and district courts and was convicted by a jury twice. His second appeal landed the case in the Montana Supreme Court in December 1998. That court, in a four-to-three ruling, reversed the district court’s judgment. It called the “reasonable and prudent” clause vague on the grounds that it “impermissibly delegates basic policy matters to policemen, judges, and juries for resolution on an ad hoc and subjective basis . . . ” Neither the citing officer nor the attorney general at the time were able to specify a speed that would have been safe at the location where Stanko was stopped. In its finding, the court also stated that the “reasonable and prudent” clause, because of its vagueness, denied defendants due process.

So how was this not a legal issue before the federal speed limit was imposed? There must have been people driving 85 and arguing it was reasonable to do so on stretches of highway where LE found that excessive, right?