The truth about the world speed limit

That there is no speed limit in Germany, Afghanistan and North Korea is a fact, rumor or misconception? We went in search of the truth and found out remarkable things about the responsibility for speed limits in Germany.

A general speed limit on German roads is a permanent topic of discussion and all arguments seem to have been exchanged long ago. In recent years, various attempts to get a speed limit through the Bundestag have failed – MPs who support a general speed limit seem to believe that they just have to try often enough. In Germany, there are still many kilometers of motorways without a general speed limit, and the same applies to country roads that are similar to motorways. When asked whether Germany is the only country in the world that has not decided on a general speed limit, some leading German media reflexively provided two examples with which Germany can be compared in this respect: Afghanistan and North Korea.

Worldwide rumor

With Afghanistan, a country serves as an example that has been shaken by decades of war and terror that has continued to this day. And then the dictatorially ruled North Korea, which feels like it is isolating itself a little more from the rest of the world every day, has to serve as a comparison. Even the member of the Bundestag Cem Özdemir (Bündnis 90/Die Grünen), whom insiders claim to have ambitions for the office of transport minister in the event that the Greens participate in government in the coming legislative period, emphasizes in the Moove podcast from auto motor und sport (from 8:27 min ) that friends from the USA keep pointing out to him that Germany is on the side of Afghanistan and North Korea when it comes to speed limits . The rumor that there is no general speed limit in Afghanistan and North Korea is not only found as a statement of fact on many reputable German websites, but seems to be a worldwide assumption.

Europe: Isle of Man without speed limit

There are countries and areas without a general speed limit - also in Europe. The Isle of Man, like the Channel Islands, is a British Crown Dependency without belonging to Great Britain - therefore the traffic regulations of the State of Great Britain do not apply there. We asked Andrea Hawley what the speed limit is like on the Isle of Man. Hawley is a Customer Services Manager with Highway Services for the Isle of Man Department of Infrastructure. It is important to her that there are many speed limits on the island: 20 mph (mph - 32 km/h) in residential areas, 30 mph (48 km/h) or 40 mph (64 km/h) on city streets and country roads and 50 mph (80 km/h) on specially designated roads.

And then there are roads without a speed limit - in contrast to Germany, you can even drive as fast as you want there with a trailer.Really? Hawley emphasizes that these narrow streets with many sharp curves are designed in such a way that speeds of more than 30 mph (48 km/h) are hardly possible for drivers. Only experienced motorcyclists who are very willing to take risks can prove at the annual Isle of Man TT (Tourist Trophy, 2020/2021 canceled due to Corona) that significantly higher speeds are also possible.

However, if motorcyclists drive through a place too quickly, they too get a ticket. The population rejected the introduction of a general speed limit in 2006. Finally, in 1904, the then governor of the island decided to use the public roads for motor sport events as well, in order to promote tourism in the area - the speed limit in Great Britain was 20 mph (32 km/h) at the time. The purpose of promoting tourism is to fulfill the missing general speed limit to this day.

Clear speed limit in Afghanistan

How fast can you drive in Afghanistan now? We asked the legal and consular department of the German Embassy in Kabul: Road traffic in Afghanistan is extensively regulated. According to Articles 7 and 8 of the movement regulation on the maximum speed within and outside urban and residential areas (i.e. applies to motorways and all roads), motorcycles, passenger cars without trailers, trucks without trailers and buses with a total weight of up to 3.5 tons are allowed to drive a maximum of 90 drive km/h. Cars and trucks with trailers and other vehicles weighing more than 3.5 tons are limited to 70 km/h and 50 km/h in urban and residential areas where speed is not limited by traffic signs The traffic authority also set the maximum speed lower with an additional sign on the rear of the vehicle. In the country where, according to some reputable German media, there is no general speed limit, a maximum of 90 km/h is allowed. The current regulations of the Afghan movement regulation have been in force since 1982 and can be viewed online - but only in Dari . Given that the Afghan speed limit has been in place for 39 years, it is puzzling how the rumor of an Afghanistan without a speed limit could have spread and persisted to this day.

North Korea: unknown regulations

And what applies in North Korea? Finding out about traffic rules in North Korea is extremely difficult. The country has isolated itself even more during the corona pandemic - the German embassy in the capital Pyongyang is currently not manned, the staff is now working in Berlin. When we asked about a general speed limit in North Korea, we got a disturbing answer from the staff at the German embassy: North Korean legislation regarding the maximum speed limit is confidential, even for diplomats, which is why our question could not be answered.We contacted various international organizations such as the UN, the UN transport department and the UN road safety department: nobody was able or willing to give us information about possible speed limits in North Korea. Even North Korean exiles have not yet responded to our request – it was not a big surprise that there was no response from the North Korean embassy in Berlin either. So we turned to Thomas Schäfer: Schäfer was ambassador to North Korea from 2013 to 2018 and is now retired.

It's not possible to drive in North Korea

Schäfer emphasizes that he needed a North Korean driver's license to drive in North Korea - which he simply got. His wife also got one – and was one of the first, and still very few, women who were allowed to drive there. Driving in North Korea is a job for men - with a good reputation. All of the women who drive there are embassy officials from foreign nations – and even these women have only been able to get a driver's license for a relatively short time. "Got" - because diplomatic traffic has now been reduced to a minimum. Schäfer makes it clear to us that driving a car is important for an embassy employee in North Korea – just to go to China once a week to buy food. Like most of North Korea's road network, the route there is unpaved. High speeds are excluded. And the few kilometers of paved roads are not only in poor condition, but also have a lot of horse-drawn carriages, cyclists and pedestrians on them - privately owned cars are almost unknown, most vehicles belong to companies or the government. Higher speeds are also not possible on the paved roads, whose entrances and exits are strictly monitored by police officers with permanent controls. Thomas Schäfer doesn't know the permitted maximum speed either - since the local conditions do not even allow 100 km/h by a long shot, this question never came up for him and his employees.

No verified information

So it seems very difficult for a foreigner to get information about a speed limit in North Korea. Or as former ambassador Thomas Schäfer says after years of experience: You get information in North Korea, but it is hardly possible to verify it. This inevitably leads to the question: how do some authors of renowned publications know that there is no speed limit in North Korea? We haven't been able to find out yet - if you have any verifiable information on this, please let us know. At least it is understandable how the rumor about the missing speed limit in North Korea came about: There is no speed limit that nobody can confirm or verify.

Motorway speed limit share in Germany unknown

It is not known how many of the current 13,200 kilometers of the German motorway network currently have no general speed limit. On January 1, 2021, the federal government took over the planning, construction, operation, maintenance, asset management and financing of federal motorways and federal roads from the federal states. To this end, the federal government founded "Die Autobahn GmbH des Bundes", a 100 percent federal company, and set up the Federal Highway Authority (FBA) as a new federal authority. As a spokeswoman for the Federal Ministry of Transport and Digital Infrastructure (BMVI) informed us when asked, the company says it does not currently record permanent or temporary speed limits. However, she plans to keep an up-to-date overview of speed limits on federal motorways in the future. What is known: so-called route control systems, i.e. traffic control systems with variable speed displays, are currently available on 3,100 kilometers of motorway.

Federal roads without speed limit

It is also difficult to get an overview of the federal roads that are not motorways but on which there is no speed limit according to the special regulation of § 3 paragraph 3 sentence 2 StVO. As with the motorways, the state authorities are responsible for the implementation of the StVO - the authorities of the individual federal states determine the maximum speed allowed. In most cases, these are the lower traffic authorities of the districts, whose regulations are not recorded centrally in most federal states. The federal states are not obliged to report to the federal government, which is why the BMVI has no information about which federal roads do not have a speed limit.

So if you want to know how many kilometers of federal trunk road only the recommended speed of 130 km/h applies, you have to ask almost all the lower traffic authorities in the districts. An exception is Bavaria, where the State Ministry of the Interior is responsible for the regulations. When asked, a spokesman for the State Ministry informed us that the B 2 near Roth, the B 15 between Landshut and Saalhaupt, sections of the B 17 and the B 28 in the Neu-Ulm area are currently without a speed limit.

Countries with the highest speed limits

The road with the currently highest speed limit runs through the United Arab Emirates: On the Abu Dhabi-Al Ain Highway and the Sheikh Khalifa Highway, both sections of the E11, speeds of 160 km/h are permitted in some areas. It is said that every emirate, with the exception of Abu Dhabi, allows a speeding violation of 20 km/h without penalty, which would theoretically mean 180 km/h on the Sheikh Khalifa Highway, which runs through Dubai.In Europe, Poland has the highest speed limit at 140 km/h, followed globally by the US state of Texas, where drivers are allowed to drive up to 85 mph (137 km/h) on a 66-kilometer toll section of State Highway 130.


The fact that Germany has not yet introduced a general speed limit is a unique selling point worldwide. Countries like Afghanistan and North Korea are unsuitable for comparison with Germany when it comes to speed limits: In Afghanistan, drivers have not been allowed to drive faster than 90 km/h since 1982, and North Korea's speed limits are not even accessible to the employees of diplomatic missions there.

All other regions without a general speed limit are also not comparable to Germany, since either the condition of the roads or the geometry of the lanes only allow low speeds anyway - on the Isle of Man, for example, roads without a speed limit are usually not even 50 km/h possible. Only experienced motorcyclists who are willing to take risks can reach higher speeds there.

The German autobahns and comparable federal roads without speed limits are built with extreme attention to safety: the lanes are considerably thicker than other roads to withstand the stresses of fast-moving vehicles and the road surface is well-maintained as potholes would be a risk. The increasingly multi-lane directions of travel are uninterruptedly separated from each other by crash barriers, there is a hard shoulder for breakdown vehicles and there is also a traffic control system with variable speed indicators over a distance of 3,100 kilometres. In addition, the police officers of the Autobahn Police are specially equipped and trained for operations on the Autobahn - the same applies to rescue workers.

The strict design for safety is the reason why more accidents with significantly more victims happen on country roads and in city traffic: 59 percent of fatal accidents in Germany in 2020 happened on country roads, 30 percent in cities and twelve percent on motorways. It is not known how many of these motorway accidents happen on stretches without a speed limit. Country road drivers and participants in city traffic live many times more dangerously than highway drivers. This is especially true when considering the mileage: According to the work "Traffic in Figures" compiled annually by the German Aerospace Center (DLR) and published by the BMVI, drivers drove 252.2 billion kilometers on motorways in 2020/2021 - more than twice as much as on federal roads, where 109.3 billion kilometers came together. The number of serious accidents is therefore more likely to be reduced by improving the safety of country roads (fast lanes, crash barriers in front of the trees growing along the roads) and massively improving protection for pedestrians and cyclists in the city.

A study recently revealed that 77 percent of drivers on the Autobahn in North Rhine-Westphalia do not drive faster than 130 km/h , only two percent drive faster than 160 km/h. The evaluation of the measured values ​​could thus also put into perspective the climate-damaging influence of high-speed driving, since these are currently comparatively rare.

The introduction of a general speed limit on German autobahns would have a high symbolic effect worldwide - the autobahn without speed limits is one of Germany's trademarks. The hoped-for effects in terms of accident numbers and climate protection, on the other hand, are likely to be present but rather low. T he speed limit comparison of Germany with countries like Afghanistan and North Korea is wrong in the first case and at least cynical in the second – and maybe just as wrong.


Leave a reply

Name *