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A fascinating map of global speed limits

Zack Beauchamp is a senior correspondent at Vox, where he covers ideology and challenges to democracy, both at home and abroad. Before coming to Vox in 2014, he edited TP Ideas, a section of Think Progress devoted to the ideas shaping our political world.

This map — a color-coded guide to the speed limits in countries and certain states — shows some interesting distinctions:

speed limits around the world

The red-bordered numbers list kilometers per hours; the black ones are miles per hour. (Amateria1121)

Bear in mind that it's listing the fastest speed limit in each the area, not the average. For example, Texas State Highway 130 has a speed-limit of 85 miles per hour. That's an outlier for Texas highways, but because it's the highest limit in the whole state, Texas shows up as blue on the above map.

There are only two big places on the map with no speed limit roads: Australia's Northern Territory and Germany. The Northern Territory has gone back and forth on this question: in 2007, it imposed a mandatory speed limit after many years of legal unlimited speeding. But, just this year, the local government changed its mind, reintroducing no-speed-limit rules on select highways. While the government is touting the experiment as a success, Australian experts are warning that the roads there aren't equipped for crazy speedsters.

But are any roads safe for unlimited speeding? That's the debate now in Germany. On the one hand, the country prides itself on the famously well-constructed Autobahn highways. "Germans seem to regard it as a basic human right to get into their BMWs," the BBC's Stephen Evans reports, "and scorch down the autobahn at warp speed." On the other hand, the evidence that putting speed limits on German roads would save lives is very, very strong.

For now, the anti-speed limit side is carrying the debate. During the 2013 German election, Social Democratic Party Chairman Sigmar Gabriel proposed putting speed limits on the Autobahn. Virtually no one backed the suggestion — including inside his own left-wing party.

But speed limits are hardly the most important road safety issue. Virtually all of the countries with the highest per capita rates of deaths from car accidents are in the developing world. According to the World Health Organization, just seven percent of nations worldwide "have comprehensive road safety laws on five key risk factors: drinking and driving, speeding, and failing to use motorcycle helmets, seat-belts, and child restraints." Given that there were about 1.25 million people road deaths in 2013, figuring out how to improve global road quality is a major issue.

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