Autobahn angst as Greens demand a speed limit

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The Independent Online
THE LAND of the Free it is perhaps not, but Germany does boast a unique liberty. It is the only country in the world where people are allowed to drive at any speed on the Autobahn, and Germans are extremely proud of this inalienable right.

They are, therefore, rather taken aback by persistent rumours of a stitch- up between the Social Democrats and the Greens, the two parties trying to form a government.

For the sake of coalition unity, Gerhard Schroder, Germany's Chancellor- in-waiting, is alleged to have caved in to Green demands for a speed limit.

The Greens, led by Joschka Fischer, a former cab-driver and Lancia fan, had promised a limit of 60mph in their election manifesto. At the moment, that would not even get you on the hard shoulder. The Social Democrats are reported to have signalled their readiness to discuss a speed limit, in the range of 75-80mph.

Amid mounting concern, Mr Schroder was forced to deny yesterday that a deal had been struck. "We haven't talked about that yet," he declared, and went on to warn unnamed people against "attacking the car industry".

The unregulated German motorway is, of course, a myth, though a potent one. Most roads are either clogged up with traffic day and night, or, as in the east, are an obstacle course of bollards and contra-flows. Occasionally, though, the left-hand lane briefly opens up as a test-track for those super-fast German cars, where anyone daring to linger at 100mph is briskly tailgated out of the way.

Could this charming aspect of German life now be threatened with extinction? The nation awaits with a deep sense of foreboding. The word from the Social Democrat barracks is that a speed limit is the only plausible concession that does not cost any money.