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2013-05-08 18:44

WHAT HIGH SPEEDS? Many of Germany's autobahns are clogged with vehicles - this is the A9 near Munich - where traffic crawls at times. Others are wide-open and 200km/h is not a problem. Image: AFP

BERLIN, Germany - May 08, 2013 (AFP) -Germany's famed speed limit-free motorways zoomed to the top of the political agenda Wednesday when an opposition leader called for restrictions to help cut accidents.

Sigmar Gabriel, head of the Centre-Left Social Democrats who are battling to unseat chancellor Angela Merkel in a September 22 vote, demanded a 120km/h, the same as most of the rest of Europe.

He told the daily Rheinische Post the move was "sensible" because figures showed it reduced serious accidents and deaths: "The rest of the world has long been doing it this way."

TEMPORARY LIMITS

Transport minister Peter Ramsauer rejected setting 120 as a limit on motorways and said the worst accidents happened on regional highways anyway.

"With me, there will not be a general speed limit on Germany's motorways," he told the online edition of news weekly Der Spiegel. "Our motorways are among the safest roads."

Around 60% of traffic deaths occur on regional highways, he said, citing current traffic statistics. He also said almost 40% of Germany's 12 800km of motorways had permanent or temporary speed limits which applied to dangerous stretches or where construction was under way .

From within Gabriel's own party,however, its candidate for chancellor Peer Steinbrueck appeared sceptical about the introduction of a speed limit, telling public broadcaster WDR he had no intention of re-igniting the debate.

Germans are fond of their high-speed cars and limitless autobahns and the subject of imposing restrictions regularly stirs debate, with the ecologist Green party backing the move as a way to cut emissions.

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