Sunday, February 5

The rise in fuel prices resurrects an old debate in Europe: touch or not touch the speed limits


The rise in fuel prices, on the rise for months now, but sharply accentuated after the arrival of Russian troops in Ukraine, has fueled the debate on cutting speed limits on highways. In an attempt to alleviate the drift in rates, voices are emerging at the international level that focus on the use of the accelerator. In Germany, the Green Party, part of the coalition that promoted Olaf Scholz to the chancellorship, has already proposed applying a limit on the country’s highways, the International Energy Agency (IEA) has included it in its “recipe” to reduce the use of oil and in the United Kingdom there are experts who point in the same direction.

The calculations of the IEA conclude that if we reduced the limits by 10 kilometers per hour we would be able to save around 290,000 barrels of oil per day in automobiles, to which another 140,000 related to heavy transport would be added. The estimate, explains the IEA, is for “advanced economies”, in the short term and provided that the measure is “feasible and culturally acceptable”, but it gives an idea of ​​the impact that touching road signs would have.

A “simple and quick” measure

Along similar lines, the German Green Party also stresses that rethinking the use of roads would be “good for protecting the climate, resources and road safety.” “It is being discussed if it is something that we are going to address next,” they slipped recently from the German Ministry of the Environment. The debate is not new there. Moreover, the idea of ​​setting a limit on the Autobahn has been on the table for some time and has not yet achieved a unanimous consensus in society, although in recent years groups such as the ADAC drivers’ association have softened their rejection.

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The debate on the roads is also on the table in the United Kingdom. The newspaper on Friday Financial Times published a letter signed by half a dozen experts, including a director of the European Transport Safety Council (ETSC) in which he highlighted the advantages of cutting speed limits to reduce imports of Russian oil into the EU. “Needed an urgent action“, emphasize the authors, who emphasize that rethinking the use of the accelerator would be “relatively simple, fast” and effective in achieving the “short-term” objective.

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The article recalls that two years ago the Netherlands already reduced the speed limit on its highways to 100 km/h during the day to curb pollution. “A car traveling at 100 km/h is 25% more efficient than at 130 km/h”, they argue. The list of territories that have taken steps in this direction in recent years also includes Brussels, Paris and the United Kingdom itself. The experts’ proposal is that the EU undertakes to “urgently” reduce speed to 100 km/h on motorways, 80 on rural roads and 30 on rural roads.

Spain also has its own history of speed cuts. Eleven years ago, the Government, then led by José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero, decided to apply a “temporary reduction” on the country’s highways and expressways and lower the maximum gear allowed 120 to 110 km/h.

Sascha Bosshard 3eamzh5l1re Unsplash

The objective was very similar to what is being sought now: “save gasoline” in the face of rising prices. The accounts of the Executive concluded that the measure would save 15% in gasoline consumption and 11% in diesel, with a millionaire cut in imports. The initiative was applied for four months, from March to the end of June, and although it managed to reduce consumption, it did not reach the starting estimates: the use of gasoline fell by 8% and that of diesel somewhat less. In 2021, the Government reviewed speeds again, although focusing on urban roads and with another priority objective: to improve safety in areas with the highest pedestrian flow.

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Touching the speed limits is not, in any case, the only option to mitigate price escalation. In Europe, governments have begun to make a move in the face of rising bills. In France, the Executive has announced a discount of 15 cents per liter that will begin to be applied in April and will be maintained for four months, in Germany a subsidy is proposed to reduce fuel costs and thus alleviate its impact on the economy of families and companies and Sweden will apply a package of measures that includes a carbon tax reduction.

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Similar policies have been adopted in Italy, which has just approved a decree to reduce excise taxes on the price of gasoline and diesel by 25 cents, or Portugal, which has been subsidizing spending on fuel for months with the refund of part of the Tax on Products Petroleum. Here, in Spain, the Government is also studying how to mitigate the blow of fuels in the economy and has made progress since it will address energy measures in the council of ministers that will be held at the end of this month, on Tuesday 29 March.

At the community level there are also movements and —in addition to aid to deal with rising prices or rethinking speed limits— some countries are exploring alternatives. Italy, for example, has just announced a millionaire plan to encourage electric cars. The AIE itself completes its “recipe” with other complementary proposals to reduce speed, such as a greater commitment to teleworking, giving up the car on Sundays in cities, betting on EVs, lowering public transport and encouraging the use of high-speed trains in front of the plane.

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Images | Norbert Braun (Unsplash) and Sascha Bosshard (Unsplash)

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