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Deaths Force Germans to Rethink Passion for Speed

BERLIN – Last month a court convicted Rolf Fischer, a 34-year-old test driver, of negligent manslaughter in the July 2003 deaths in a car accident caused by his speeding and sentenced him to 18 months in prison.

Germany’s world-famous right to speed was not on trial, but its opponents have seized on the verdict to renew long-standing demands for controls.

Politicians in the ruling Social Democrat-Green coalition have declared the time has come for limits, arguing that it’s common sense that slowing down would save lives.

But in this otherwise heavily regulated society, many Germans view the right to drive fast as a last frontier of freedom.

The German Automobile Club argued that statistics show no correlation between safety and speed limits. What is needed is a crackdown on practices such as following too closely, said Markus Schaepe, a legal specialist on transportation.

Germany’s Transport Ministry, which oversees the 7,500-mile-long autobahn system, said a better response would be to redesign stretches of road where accidents routinely occur.

It’s a myth that German highways have no speed limits. On about a third of the autobahn, limits are posted. On the  rest, authorities recommend that drivers keep to 130 kilometers (about 81 miles) per hour, but drivers are legally free to ignore that and generally do.


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