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German autobahns retain open speed limit

autobahns autobahn

Germany has voted down a Greens party suggestion to limit the speed on some autobahns with unrestricted speed limits.

It is a common misbelief that all German autobahns have open speed limits.

Some do and they will remain unrestricted despite the Greens trying to limit them to 130km/h to “reduce emissions, make the roads safer and strangely make traffic move more freely”!

While the German Government has allowed sanity to prevail, it is a shame Australia lost its open speed limits on the Northern Territory in 2006.

NT speed history

road safety epidemic
Northern Territory 130km/h sign

Despite a zero fatality rate on highways with open speed limits, the Northern Territory returned to 130km/h speed restrictions in 2016.

The NT used to have open speed limits on its highways, but in 2006, the then Labor Government imposed a 130km/h limit.

Instead of accidents reducing, they increased. In fact, 307 died in the NT over the next six years, 15 more than in the previous six years.

In 2015, the NT government decided to allow motorists to choose their own speed on a 336km section of the Stuart Highway after a successful 18-month evidence-based trial.

Despite the trial’s success and the past year’s zero road fatalities, the next government announced straight after the elections that they would remove the unlimited sections.

Traffic counter data from the previous NT government’s six-month trial showed there was only a small increase in driver speed in the trial sections, with 85% of drivers travelling 133-139km/h.

Together with the zero fatality toll on the unrestricted highways surely it proves that open speed limits work and motorists aren’t so stupid as to consistently ride or drive outside their comfort zone.


Interestingly, Germany with its unrestricted and high-speed autobahns, has a better record on road deaths than Australia with its ever-reducing speed limits.

Check out this table that shows 2016 road deaths per 100,000 population, 100,000 motor vehicles and one billion kilometres travelled.

Country Deaths/100k pop’n Deaths/100k vehicles Deaths/1 billion km Deaths in 2016
Australia 5.6 7.4 5.2 1351
Germany 4.1 6.4 4.2 3327

Furthermore, German autobahns only account for 12% of the nation’s road death toll.

Veteran motorcycle travel guide Peter Colwell says Aussie motorists are “speedo gazers” whop spend more time looking at their speedos to avoid a speeding fine than observing the road.

NT surgeon David Read supports the restriction, but admits that the Territory has very low seat belt usage and very high drink driving rates.

Peter points out that the vocal medical fraternity are not necessarily experts on road safety.

“Some might not even drive,” he says.

“They cannot claim any more expertise in road safety than the average citizen, perhaps less, given they are among the busiest people in the land in their ‘offices’.

“They repair broken bodies but don’t tell people how to live, so why tell them how to drive? It’s not logical.”

The yo-yo speed limits of the NT over the past few years are a direct result of party politics.

“Why are speed limits political?” Peter asks.

“It’s asinine. The Newell Highway in NSW was dropped to 100km/h under Labor, but went back up to 110 when the government changed.

“That is really ridiculous when you think about it.”

Increase limits

Advocates of increasing the speed limit on some highways say motorists are safer because they focus more when they are driving faster.

In fact, the only drawback in allowing faster speed limits on certain open highways is that fuel consumption increases substantially. The optimum speed for fuel economy on most motorcycles is about 80-km/h, depending on the aero of the bike.

I’ve ridden and driven on unrestricted sections of German autobahns and found it quite safe.

However, it is very well constructed with banked gentle curves and a smooth surface. Also, the drivers are all well behaved with good lane discipline and extensive driver license education.

Some Australian highways are the equal of the unrestricted German autobahns.

Harley Ultra at a Stuart Highway rest stop speed limit
Harley Ultra at a Stuart Highway rest stop

However, when I last rode the Stuart Highway several the surface was fairly bumpy and the big old Harley Ultra I was riding two-up started bottoming out on some of the bigger lumps.

You also had to watch out for emus running out from behind saltbushes close to the road.

Since then, the NT government has spent $4.4 million upgrading the Stuart Highway to suit higher speeds.

It also allocated $2.5 million to clear vegetation from the edge of the highway, widen curves and improve the marking and signage.

So the highway is now safer, yet slower!

  1. I think the statistics table above is missing a column which more clearly shows Australia’s philosophy in speed limits. The Revenue Raised column.

  2. I’m not sure about open speed limits, however what I want to see is State Governments spending money on major roads outside of capital cities so that we can actually increase speeds outside of towns to 110 kph instead of slashing speed limits because the condition of roads isn’t safe. The Victorian Labor government recently cut the Robinvale to Sea Lake road limit from 100 to 80 kph die to “safety concerns”. This type of inaction by governments has to be stopped and money has to be allocated properly so that people outside of the major cities can get where they need to go in a timely fashion.

  3. Re the NT: point well made but in addition it should be noted the back and forth with derestricted speed is nothing more than a Labor vs Liberal spat, which is why it makes no sense until you factor in politics. The current ‘Gunner’ government will send us broke sooner or later, even with the fines, but no word on whether the next lot of Libs will reinstate the derestriction …

  4. What about banning state governments from using vehicle fines for anything other than road improvements, making sure that it goes to an independent organisation that decides what roads get the work well out of the politicians hands.

  5. Ive driven and ridden on Autobahns, fast French Péage motorways (130kmh limit but many drive at 150/160 kmh) and British Motorways at high speeds and felt quite safe. The reason why it isn’t that safe and we have higher accident rates in Australia is that we are worse drivers, its that simple. No lane discipline or courtesy to fellow road users and no skills at driving safely at speed. The long and drawn out driving licence with extensive supervised hours for L-drivers and three years of restrictions on P-drivers hasn’t produced a generation of better drivers. We really need driver and rider skills training. All the L-drivers supervised hours does is let older drivers share their bad driving habits with learners!

    What the Australian authorities need to concentrate on is eliminating’dangerous driving’ and that doesn’t simply mean fast. But that needs more cops and its easier to put up a so called ‘safety’ camera cash cow than actually do something that promotes safe driving.

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