Cutting a "precious ribbon of freedom" in Germany


The German autobahn, long a symbol of freedom of movement taken to giddy extremes, may be facing speed limits in a united Europe, reports the Christian Science Monitor. Look for oily tears in Kraftwerk's robotic eyes.

[Link via Rational Review.]

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  1. Hey, it happened in Nevada, it could happen anywhere.

    Of course, Nevada, like the other 49, caved in order to get buckets ‘o blood, er, ah, highway funds, some twenty plus years ago.

    Then, while we all wildly cheered as the Repubs freed the speed, Nevada opted for 75 instead of ‘pedal to the metal’ on the open highways.

    Big Sigh.

  2. TWC,
    Don’t forget that Montana got rid of their highway speed limits only to have them return shortly thereafter.

  3. I thought that although Montana got rid of the posted limit, there was still a no reckless driving law, which allowed a cop to pull you over if you were going 120mph, or whatever the cop felt was “too fast for the conditions.” My memory could be completely off here, though.

  4. I like how a major Nazi public-works project — highways facilitated by eminent domain and even funded in part by mass property and personal asset confiscations — can still manage to be a “symbol of freedom” of any kind, movement or otherwise.

    Reason’s still a libertarian publication, right?

  5. And Ellis Island was bilked from the Indians. You can put your weapon down now, S.M., the Nazis have been defeated.

  6. s.m. koppelman,

    Your statement commits the error known as a genetic fallacy.

    The original source of an idea, object, etc. is not neccessarily a particularly sound basis for evaluating its merits.

  7. Shawn,
    Last time I was there, in May, I saw posted signs with 85 during the day and 75, or 65, at night. This was between Billings and Lewiston, so there may be other parts that this isn’t the case. However, my friend told me it had gotten changed a couple years ago.

    I was pissed, I wanted to see what my car could do out there.

  8. The speed limits in Montana had been ‘reasonable and proper’, which both permits driving above 75 mph and authorizes the police to determine if your speed is ‘unreasonable’ and/or ‘improper’.
    It was the egregious behavior of a team of German automotive enginers (BMW if memory serves) who had brought several of their newest road rockets to Montana for testing that led to at least one arrest for driving 120mph or faster. Very shortly after this incident, Montana dropped ‘reasonable and proper’ and joined the rest of the country with posted limits.

    Shirley Knott

  9. Shirley,

    Thanks so much for the info. That’s a good story, even if it was too bad that a few jerks had to spoil it for everyone else.

  10. By the way, the lead-footed driver interviewed in Christian Science Monitor article provides a pretty good reason for imposing limits, passing other vehicles “as though they’re standing still” and tailgating aggressively.

    Speed doesn’t generally kill. Speed differentials do. If the autobahns are filling up with drivers who weave through traffic like they’re in a downhill slalom or a Steve McQueen movie, no wonder there’s talk of speed limits.

    …Though as the article notes, the technology is there to have variable (and potentially very high) limits posted based on current traffic levels and road conditions.

  11. “Speed doesn’t generally kill. Speed differentials do.”

    That’s why there a standard rule on the Autobahn, along with other European highways, that slower cars have to get out of the way of faster ones in the left lane. Cuts down on the weaving considerably. Maybe some decade, Americans will fully understand this concept. I’m not holding out any hope for New Yorkers, however.

    You might also want to consider the possibility that speed limits help create differentials, as cars intent on staying close to the limit share the faster lanes with drivers able and willing to go faster. The inevitable slamming of the brakes that most motorists carry out upon seeing a police car also doesn’t help matters.

    I don’t have any links on hand, but I remember reading that traffic fatalities on the Autobahn tend to be lower than those on the average American highway.

  12. s.m.: A TV program on the technology of the autobahn showed a network of driver-information signage and variable speed limits. It looked cool. In congestion, where the speed differential is likely to be high and highly variable, they remotely impose and and adjust limits on normally free sections.

    As an aside, the safe speed depends on the roadway, the vehicle, and the driver. Maybe technology will advance to instantly measure all the factors and advise an invidual-vehicle speed limit.

    (in pleasant digital voice) The upcoming road is generally straight and clear, your left front wheel shows underinflation, and your BAC reads .13 — Your maximum safe speed is 15mph.

  13. That’s why there a standard rule on the Autobahn, along with other European highways, that slower cars have to get out of the way of faster ones in the left lane. Cuts down on the weaving considerably.

    Problems will still arise when you have a crowded highway with people going 55 in the right lane, and those going 70 in the left. The nitwits who want to go 85 can only do it if they weave.

  14. Assuming that you’re in an environment where you can go 85 safely, the nitwits are the guys going 70 who won’t get out of the way. A crowded highway may or may not be such a place.

    When push comes to shove, as long as we have different types of cars and drivers sharing the same highways, we’re going to have major speed differentials. Partly because some people are more comfortable and more skilled at driving faster, and partly because some cars are more capable of safely being driven at a given speed in a given environment. Save for those highway situations where it’s impossible for anyone to go beyond a certain speed safely (i.e. some mountainous and urban areas), the disruptions caused by speed limits to the natural flow of traffic will do as much harm to highway safety as the good that might come from restraining some reckless speed demons, if not moreso.

    Not to mention that speed limits in such situations fly against the basic libertarian argument of trusting consumers to use the products that they buy responsibly, and not having the law crack down on them unless they’ve used them in a way that harms someone else, or will inevitably do so.

  15. I’ve never been more ashamed of my American countrymen then when I drove in England. The Britons move right, pass, then move back left like clockwork. It was beautiful to watch, and the traffic moved much more freely, in spite of the narrower lanes on their freeways.

  16. Eric II,

    If you’re going 70 in the left lane, and the right lane is packed with cars going 55, there may not be any space for you to move over into. That’s why I stipulated that the scenario breaks down on a crowded highway.

    Also, remember that the government (federal, state, or local) owns the highways, giving them the right to set the rules for how they can be used. Nothing anti-libertarian about that.

    Whether the government should own the roads is a separate issue, of course.

  17. “If you’re going 70 in the left lane, and the right lane is packed with cars going 55, there may not be any space for you to move over into.”

    True. But the absence of speed limits in such a venue doesn’t mean that the guy going 70 has to drive faster until it’s safe to change lanes. Or that statues on careless/reckless driving can’t be applied to someone who darts in and out of lanes in a way that begs for an accident.

    “Also, remember that the government (federal, state, or local) owns the highways, giving them the right to set the rules for how they can be used. Nothing anti-libertarian about that.”

    Ha! Let mw know when there are some privately-owned highways out there connecting major cities, where the owners set their own speed limits. And should some company have the capital to start building highways connecting major cities, and should they have the freedom to set whatever speed limits they want, let me know about how many government hurdles they’ll first have to clear before they can start construction.

    Given the present status of our highway systems, saying that there’s nothing anti-libertarian about the government setting speed limits on them is similar to saying that there’s nothing anti-libertarian about the government carrying out random strip-searches of people who walk into courtrooms.

  18. Eric II,

    While I sympathize with your exasperation with govt’s monopoly of the highways: according to your definition, virtually all the traffic laws are anti-libertarian. Running red lights, driving the wrong way down a one-way street, and even drunk driving do not inevitably lead to harming anyone.

    The problem is, I think, that if the highway were privately owned, owners would certainly forbid such dangerous activities, out of fear of lawsuits if nothing else. So long as the govt owns the roadways, we’ll have to put up with its definition of what constitutes dangerous driving.

  19. Its amazing, the Germans have had the autobahn since before world war II, the autobahn WAS the inspiration for the American highway system, although they ditched the lack of speed limit.

    The Germans and a dozen other European countries who have similar highway systems (ie. The Italian Autostrada) and those people seem to get along fine with cars going 70 Kph and cars going over 300 Kph (186+ mph) without a problem.

    I have always held a theory, difference in cultures. When an American driver gets passed, it seems they take it personaly and a road race insues, the Europeans dont generaly engage in driving behavior like that….

    As far as the story about Montana is concerned, I call bullshit, unless you can cite a source, BMW own one of the most sophisticated test tracks in the world, why would they try out a high performance car on the comparitively crappy highway in Montana??

  20. “Running red lights, driving the wrong way down a one-way street, and even drunk driving do not inevitably lead to harming anyone.”

    Maybe “an action that will inevitably harm someone else” is the wrong phrase to use. A better one might be an action where the perpetrator can no longer control whether or not someone else gets harmed. For a non-driving example, consider the act of shooting wildly into the air in an urban setting. I, like most people, would have no problem with the cops arresting someone for doing that, even if he hasn’t yet shot anyone or damaged any property. Because the question of whether or not that happens is not under the shooter’s control.

    On a similar vein, if a driver was to run through red lights without looking or head 60mph down a residential street containing stop signs and pedestrians, the question of whether or not he creates an accident boils down purely to luck. The same would be true for drunk driving beyond a certain BAC level, though I think that level’s higher than .08. On the other hand, driving at very high speeds on many stretches of highway in this country doesn’t necessarily make the question of whether the driver will be responsible for an accident a matter of luck, provided that heavy traffic isn’t an issue, and the driver and the car are up to the task.

  21. In California, it seems that semi-trucks are inherently dangerous, often manned by stupid and reckless drivers. And since slower is safer, we have a dual speed limit, where trucks have to go 55, and cars go 70. For some reason, every driver I’ve talked to hates CA.

  22. The story as presented came from family members in Montana. I have been unable to find a web reference to that particular story, but did find the following:
    “The state House of Representatives – which had already planned on taking up the speed-limit issue – got an extra nudge from the courts in late December. A cattle dealer from Billings, Mont., who was arrested three times for driving 102, 117, and 121 m.p.h., appealed his traffic convictions to the Montana Supreme Court, arguing successfully that state law wasn’t clear in telling him how fast he could go. The high court sided with the rancher, criticizing the vagueness of the nonnumeric speed limit and tossing out a portion of the so-called Basic Rule because of the confusion it generated.”

    As to the plausibility of it being BMW given their extensive resources in Germany — the story as given to me originally touched on that in terms of differing fuel, altitude, and “American-gov’t required features not present on European-locale vehicles”. The impression being that test facilities notwithstanding, you don’t get MT’s geo/atmospheric conditions along with ‘real world’ roads and thus the desire to test American-locale targetted vehicles without restraint of local speed limits.
    May well be apocraphyl, although several of the family members are *seriously* engaged with BMW, although more from the motorcycle end of things.

    Shirley Knott

  23. Well said Eric II

    But then I have had more speeding tickets than I can count. I get pissed off when the judge gives me a lecture about safety. I have a good car, and I am a good driver. And it is the ones who drive 55 and think that they are going at a safe speed who are the problem.

    I never drive faster than I can safely drive. And I can drive at my speed much more safely than many who drive close to the speed limit because they don’t feel the need to be aware of their surroundings.

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