German highways: are they the safest roads in the world??

German autobahns: are they the safest roads in the world?. Cars driving on the autobahn: the risk of dying on the autobahn is up to six times lower than on roads overall. (Source: dpa/Sebastian Gollnow)

Transport Minister Andreas Scheuer (CSU) does not want a speed limit on highways – and claims that German highways are the safest in the world. Is there any evidence for this thesis? Scheuer’s ministry at least did not provide any.

Are German freeways the safest roads?

Assertion: “German highways are the safest roads.” The CSU politician recently told the newspaper Bild am Sonntag. Assessment: Doubtful.

German highways
This is what the speed limit debate is about

Germany is the only country in Europe without a speed limit on the autobahns. But some associations now want to change that. more

(Source: Getty Images)

Facts: International comparative figures cast doubt on Scheuer’s statement. Even the German Road Safety Council and insurers’ accident researchers know of no statistical evidence to support Scheuer’s thesis. However, data from the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) and the EU cannot exactly refute the statement either.

20.928 accidents with fatalities and injuries

Basically, autobahns are the safest type of road in the world. According to the OECD, the risk of death there is up to six times lower than on the roads as a whole. But Germany is the only country in Europe without a general speed limit on freeways. And at higher speeds, the risk of causing a fatal accident increases rapidly: as the World Health Organization writes, the risk grows by four percent for every one percent increase in speed.

The Federal Statistical Office writes in its report “Accident trends on German roads”, that speeding is a major cause of accidents on highways. In 2017, according to the Wiesbaden-based authority, there were 20.928 accidents with deaths and injuries on highways. 409 people died, 5.974 were seriously injured.

High “fatality rate

According to EU data, more accidents end fatally on an equally long stretch of highway in Germany than in other EU countries. According to this, the “fatality rate” was per 1.000 kilometers on German highways at 30.2 percent. The European average was 26.4 percent. The countries that performed significantly better than Germany include

  • Cyprus
  • Finland
  • Sweden
  • Portugal
  • Hungary
  • Austria
  • France
  • Great Britain

This at least contradicts Scheuer’s statement. However, the data says nothing about how many cars were on the roads.

In most EU countries, a person is considered to have died in an accident if he or she succumbs to his or her injuries within 30 days. France, for example, only counts for six days. This distorts the values in this case.

Reference values are missing for international comparison

Even measured in terms of population, countries such as Great Britain, Sweden, Norway and Switzerland have had far fewer fatal accidents overall than Germany for many years, according to Siegfried Brockmann, head of the German Insurers Accident Research (UDV). These countries compare well with Germany.

“In these countries, the road infrastructure is similar and therefore this may also be due to the way road users treat each other.”, says Brockmann. With regard to Scheuer’s statement, he says: “As a scientist, I miss the reference value, for example, inhabitants or kilometers driven.” However, he does not have such figures in an international comparison.

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If you look at the distances traveled on highways, the United Kingdom, Finland, Austria and the Netherlands, for example, once again perform better than Germany. According to the OECD, twice as many people die on highways in Germany per billion kilometers driven as in Great Britain. In Germany, this means 1.614 people, and in Great Britain, 0.852 people. This also does not exactly suggest that German highways are the safest in the world.

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