A government commission has recommended a speed limit on the autobahns in Germany, the only rich country where a driver doesn't need to watch the speedometer on most of the highways. So the nation is debating what speed restrictions can actually achieve in terms of traffic safety and climate protection, a conversation the rest of the world should tune in to, as well.

Germany actually has speed limits on about 40 percent of its 13,000 km of autobahns, where authorities believe road conditions warrant it and where road repairs are taking place. But the other 60 percent are a territory of freedom unlike anything elsewhere..

The absence of speed limits is a gift from two powerful lobbies: the car-owners' association ADAC, with more than 20 million members, and the German Association of the Automotive Industry, which represents carmakers and has had close ties to every post-World War II German government.