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Driving on the Autobahn one can often see a temporary speed limit:

autobahn speed limit

Are these limits actually enforced, either through a speed camera or by policemen carrying a radar?

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    That's Germany, so yes. – mts Jun 4 '16 at 9:43
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    @mts I've seen lots of people completely ignoring these signs though. I assume those are the locals knowing the limit is "optional". – JonathanReez Supports Monica Jun 4 '16 at 10:37
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    For checking where speed limits are, and some cameras, check this question - travel.stackexchange.com/questions/22193/… – Nathan Shoesmith Jun 4 '16 at 10:59
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    @JonathanReez: When you're going faster than 100 km/h, they deduct 5% safety margin for measurement errors anyway (it's 3% if you're slower than 100). So they typically set the camera to at least 20 over, as they don't want to waste limited amount of film (no digital photography for evidence reasons) on people who go 115 and get fined 10€ for driving 104 after the safety margin. In towns (50 allowed) most cameras are set to 60-65. – Guntram Blohm supports Monica Jun 4 '16 at 12:36
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    @Random832 Speedometers in cars, yes, same in Germany. The velocity they show may never be too low, but up to 10% + 4 km/h too high. This is a EU regulation. As the accuracy of those changes with the age/diameter of the tire, this is to prevent drivers from blaming the speedometer when they go too fast. The measurement devices used by law enforcement however, are calibrated as exactly as possible and have to be recalibrated regularily; the safety margin is to compensate for possible deviations between recalibrations. – Guntram Blohm supports Monica Jun 4 '16 at 19:05
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(Source: I am German, have been driving in Germany for 25+ years, and had, altogether, 3 temporary driving bans of one month each for speeding)

Yes, these things are enforced.

A different answer says enforced in areas that are urbanised, substandard, accident-prone, or under construction, this is at least misleading. Those areas are more prone to having any speed limits at all, but if there are any, they are enforced, no matter the area.

Basically there are 3 (possibly 4) ways for enforcing them:

  • Stationary radar traps. Yes, we Germans call them traps, even if that's in no way an official designation. These stationary traps are connected to the limit signs, so they adjust to changed limits, immediately. If a speed limit changes, for example, from 120 km/h to 100 km/h, and the radar trap is 2 km behind the sign, you'll have 2-3 minutes before the trap changes. I know of at least one case when someone said he had been taking a break at a parking between sign and trap (there is an official park place there), the court dismissed this, saying he should have noted everyone else slowing down and inferred the new speed limit. One example I've been driving for years is the A8 between Ulm and Stuttgart, there were 6 traps in a 25 km stretch (3 in each direction); there's construction work going on there right now and the traps are (at the moment) removed. Examples of those (these are not Autobahn images, but the devices look the same): this enter image description here

  • Mobile traps. You won't see a policeman standing next to the road with "carry-on" laser guns, at least not on the Autobahn, for safety reasons. But they have portable devices they place at the side of the road for a few hours. These are typically on stretches that have a fixed speed limit, but there are rumors they fix the automatic signs to a certain speed (while the trap is installed) to avoid issues with syncing the mobile trap. (Some of those signs are automated, for example, the above-mentioned A8 is foggy quite often in fall, they have automated mechanisms to detect fog and set a speed limit). Example picture: enter image description here

In both of these cases, you won't get pulled over, you'll be photographed for evidence purposes and get a ticket later. If you're a tourist and have a rented car, the ticket will go to the car rental company which will deduct it from your credit card.

  • Video surveillance cars. (This is what got me once). They just drive behind you for a few km, make a video of you driving, then pull you over as that's the only way to make sure who the driver is when they don't have a picture. They will watch the video with you and give you a lecture about how dangerous was what you did. They will not trust their own speed-indicator; they will send the video to an expert who will determine your speed from a timer that's shown on the video and landmarks, mostly the lane markings. If you're speeding, and some other car behind you seems to "want to give you a race", make sure to decelerate (not brake!) and adhere to the limit, especially if the car behind you has 2 adults sitting in the front row. (For reasons of evidence these cars always have two policemen).

  • "Random" police cars. If you're way faster than you should, they will pursue you, but in most cases, you won't get any else than a stern lecture. Happened to me once as well, I was driving 200 in an area that had a 120 limit, late at night, almost no other cars on the road. I noticed I was overtaking a police car right the second I was next to it; they pursued me and pulled me over. They told me they estimated my speed at 190, but as they were not equipped with a calibrated speedometer, they had no evidence, but warned me had I got caught in a radar trap that would have been 3 month without driving license for me. After promising to be more careful they let me go.

Consequences

More than 40 km/h over the limit (Autobahn and outside towns) or more than 30 km/h will mean a temporary ban of your drivers license. If you're a foreigner, they won't take your license, but you will still be forbidden from driving. Getting yourself caught again will be very expensive and may even give you some time in jail. Same if you get caugt more than 25 km/h over the limit twice in 12 months.

Between 20 and 30/40 over the limit, you'll get in a special database where some points are assigned depending on your speed (you get the same points for, for example, ignoring a red light); if you accumulate too many of them your license get temporarily suspended as well.

Less then 20 over the limit will cost you some money, but in normal cases, no further consequences. So if you're speeding, try to keep it below 20 km/h. Of course, if there is an accident, your speed will be held against you anyway.

The German Ministry of Transport has a website (in German) that lists costs in Euro, database points, and months of license ban. The first table is in towns, the second outside towns. Those are the fines for normal violations by normal cars; they are generally higher for trucks or in circumstances that are especially dangerous (dense fog, railway crossings, ...).

Warning devices

Devices that warn about radar controls are not permitted. Relevant law:

Wer ein Fahrzeug führt, darf ein technisches Gerät nicht betreiben oder betriebsbereit mitführen, das dafür bestimmt ist, Verkehrsüberwachungsmaßnahmen anzuzeigen oder zu stören. Das gilt insbesondere für Geräte zur Störung oder Anzeige von Geschwindigkeitsmessungen (Radarwarn- oder Laserstörgeräte).

In English: Who drives a vehicle must not use, or possess in usable condition, a device that is intended to show or disturb traffic control measures. This is especially the case for devices that disturb or show velocity controls.

("Possess in usable condition" means "ready for use", this does apply to a device on your dashboard that's switched off, it does not apply to a device in it's original package in the trunk. Long ago, possession was banned as well, but as some EU countries do allow those devices, they had to make mere possession legal).

So, a device that actively monitors laser or radar waves and warns you is forbidden (75€, 4 points in the database mentioned earlier), and authorities will confiscate and destroy the device. A device that disturbs measurement will get you in even more trouble. A device that uses GPS to warn you about fixed radar controls is a bit of a grey area. If that is the only purpse of the device, it'll get confiscated as well. If your navigation device has a "point of interest" database listing radar controls, or you use a smartphone app, you'll typically get the fine, but keep the device. TomTom's Website claims "POI Software is allowed, but there's no case law yet", Navigon says "Some contries allow this, others don't, you have to get informed about the law in your country yourself". More information (in German): http://www.heise.de/autos/artikel/Blitzerwarner-im-Navi-Erlaubt-oder-nicht-1631522.html

As mere possession is legal, coyote sells in Germany as well; their website says the same thing about "your duty to comply with the law, not ours":

Es liegt jedoch in der Verantwortung des Nutzers, sich vor Fahrtantritt über die jeweils geltenden Regelungen im entsprechenden Land selbst zu informieren.

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    Could you elaborate on ""artifically" switched the signs to a certain speed to make the mobile trap work as well"? Are you saying speed limits are lowered just to receive extra revenue from speed fines? – JonathanReez Supports Monica Jun 4 '16 at 12:35
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    Or are you saying that mobile speed cameras are connected to the speed limit signs? – JonathanReez Supports Monica Jun 4 '16 at 12:35
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    @Jan: Well, 3 times, but in almost 30 years, and the last time was quite a while ago. Some personality traits do change when you get older ;) – Guntram Blohm supports Monica Jun 4 '16 at 12:51
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    Re completely unreasonable: I was once driving from Munich airport to Großhadern along the A92, A99 and A96. It was a clear, sunny day in early spring, temperatures double-digit the entire day. Part of the leg (can’t remember whether it was A92 or A99) where there were no tunnels or anything had these temporary signs and they kept showing 120 for really no apparant reason. That really pissed me off ;) – Jan Jun 4 '16 at 12:57
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    @Jan: Close to big cities, these speed limits are often put up for noise reduction/emission reduction reasons. Especially on clear, sunny days (mostly summer, not spring though) ozone is a problem in cities that gets addressed by traffic restrictions. – Guntram Blohm supports Monica Jun 4 '16 at 13:03
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EDIT: I've rewritten my answer, especially to address the question about the variable speed limit.

The signs

These signs can show different speed limits, which is for example used as flow control. If there's much traffic or even a jam ahead, speed limit is reduced.

In general, these signs are as valid as their normal, printed counterpart.

Enforcement

Speed limits are of course enforced in Germany, though the fines are relatively low compared to other countries.

Stationary cameras

@Guntram Blohm has already shown some of them. But especially on the Autobahn, I know this ones on the A3 near Limburg:

enter image description here

The speed limits signs were extraordinary large, and repeated three times or so. If you don't care, the last sign will make a photo ;-)

There's also a web site listing all stationary speed cameras on the Autobahn

Stationary cameras on tracks with various speed limits

According to the site posted above, there are indeed some stationary speed cams, which adapt to the variable speed limit. The right column states the threshold for the trigger:

enter image description here

Non-stationary speed cameras

Of course, we have mobile cameras. They can be stand-alone devices, sometimes built into cars parking at the side of the street, or even trash bins (!)

Police

A laser speed gun is often used by the police, but of course not on the autobahn. But they have civil cars (i.e. no police cars) with a video recording system, which is also calibrated for precise speed measurements. This videos are also conclusive when you go to court.

enter image description here

We don't have many of those cars, and they are more or less looking for the really bad guys, which drive waaay to fast or show other bad driving habits.

Special cameras

Just for completeness, and because of interest:

The Autobahn A1 crosses the Rhine in Leverkusen, and it turned out a few years ago, that the bridge is very ramshackle, and even can't be repaired. A new bridge will be build, but it's still in the planning phase. The existing bridge has a speed limit of 60km/h and is closed for vehicles of more than 3500kg. But since the detour is very long, many trucks ignored this. The bridge now has two cameras in each direction, one for speed, and one for weight...

Ah, and there are some pilot projects for cameras measuring the distance between vehicles on the autobahn, because it is often way too low.

Note:

Police will always stop and fine you directly. Any kind of speed camera is operated by the city, district or state, and you'll receive a letter from them, not the police.

  • It's not the first time I hear about speed cameras on board a car (not only in Germany) but I am yet to witness one or hear about anybody getting caught that way and I have to wonder how effective those are and/or how many of these are actually operational. To an extent, I feel this is more about show than anything else and I am not sure knowing that fully addresses the question. Regular mobile speed cameras do not seem very practical in this scenario either: We are not talking about roadworks area or anything like that but about limits changing from one minute to the next. – Relaxed Jun 4 '16 at 10:54
  • PS: I did not downvote your answer however! – Relaxed Jun 4 '16 at 11:03
  • @Relaxed British police cars carry video cameras and are capable of measuring the speed of other vehicles on the road. You can see this in any one of the multiple TV shows that follow traffic patrol cops. I'd be surprised if the German police didn't have the same technology. – David Richerby Jun 4 '16 at 11:54
  • @DavidRicherby Of course, I have seen such shows about France or Germany too… but also one TV show airing complaints about how poorly they worked in practice and how little they were actually used. And even the more upbeats reports only ever mentioned a handful such cars for the whole country. And I also remember reading some magazine article treating this as news some 15-20 years ago and then the same thing again as the French police recently bought a couple of new cars. Meanwhile, I have never seen any stats or heard about anybody getting caught that way (as anecdotal as that is, obviously). – Relaxed Jun 4 '16 at 12:01
  • That's precisely why I am speculating those are mostly for show/demonstration purposes at this stage or perhaps a case of some clever vendor overselling very expensive yet not very useful technology and a good answer would offer something more than “They exist, I have seen them on TV”. – Relaxed Jun 4 '16 at 12:02
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As others have noted, these temporary speed limit signs are equally valid as permanent signs are. As such, when speeding and getting caught you face the same consequences as if there had been a fixed sign on the roadside.

However, I disagree with the other answers somewhat. Germany is very lenient when it comes to enforcing speed limits. It is not unheard of for speeding in an urban 30 km/h zone to only be enforced at speeds of 40 km/h onwards. (that’s over 30 % more!) I have heard various rules of thumb as to which faster speed is acceptable, and most boil down to a formula of:

10 % + 3 km/h, rounded up to the nearest multiple of ten.

Attempt that kind of speeding in other countries and you are in for big fines.

Another point is that — despite what many people perceive — speeding fines in Germany are rather low when compared to other European countries. If you are caught driving 140 km/h (measurement tolerances already deducted) on the motorway on a stretch where 120 km/h are allowed, your fine is merely 30 €.

The density of speed cameras varies greatly depending on the Bundesland you are in. Baden-Württemberg is on top of the ladder with over 1100 fixed cameras while Bavaria, despite being the largest state, only has 85. (Numbers from early 2015) The police ‘have better things to do’ in many areas rather than stand around and enforce speed limits. So altogether, there is a strong lenience towards speed limit enforcing.

This means, if the temporary speed limit is 120 km/h, most drivers will drive at 130 to 140 km/h, and even if the police do measure, this is unlikely to get enforced. Go with the flow and typically nothing will happen. If enforcement is present, they will be on the lookout for the blatant speeding outliers.

  • Note that measurements have been outsourced to private companies in some cases and in some of those some cases are used to make big money. Besides that +1 – mts Jun 4 '16 at 12:56
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    @mts True that. Although as far as I know that only happened for urban speed enforcement. (If you can give me evidence that that happens on country roads and motorways, I would be very happy =D.) – Jan Jun 4 '16 at 12:58
  • Only two sentences actually address the question without given an answer and your link is in German. Pointing out that enforcement can start from higher speeds than the official limit is useful but this doesn't answer the question. – Lilienthal Jun 4 '16 at 14:17
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As pointed out by @sweber these signs are valid and this being Germany, yes the limits will be enforced.

I've been passing through one such stretch fairly frequently and while I have never seen mobile radars there, I have been warned of popular spots and have frequently heard the warnings on the radio. Also the vast majority of drivers really sticks to the speed limit (with German precision) in that area.

The system of temporary traffic controls is used for controlling the flow of traffic around peak hours (in theory, in reality always), alleviating traffic jams and avoiding accidents (i.e. slowing down traffic before hitting a jam / construction site / accident site).
In the aforementioned section there are cameras on poles throughout for monitoring traffic and most people do stick to the limits (within 10km/h at least), so I would be very surprised if there were no controls at all. In fact, if not knowing the place you should always expect mobile controls and drive within 10km/h of the limit). Police cars might try to catch you if you really exceed the limits as mentioned by @sweber (but personally I feel 30km/h over the limit might only trigger them on a bad day).

Finally, here is a map with permanent speed controls. Mobile ones are also announced on the radio (on most stations, in German, every full and half hour after the news) and there exist apps.

  • I am not sure we are talking about the same type of temporary limits. On the A2 for example, it's not only at well-defined peak hours around urban areas, you have limits that are apparently set semi-automatically on the whole length of the motorway, going on and off from one section to the next based on (presumably) measures of rain or traffic. It's difficult to see how regular mobile cameras can cope with this. – Relaxed Jun 4 '16 at 10:58
  • @Relaxed the one I talk about is as described in the Q and likely as the one you refer to. I would be surprised if the police/company carrying out the speed control were not in contact in some way with the central setting the limits, but I have no reference for that at the moment. – mts Jun 4 '16 at 11:38
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    I, for one, wouldn't be too surprised if it wasn't the case. It's not completely trivial to do. – Relaxed Jun 4 '16 at 11:57
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    @Relaxed: Especially in places where they have fixed radar controls, they are connected to the signs, resp. the control centre. The A8 between Ulm and Stuttgart had sensors that detected fog and controlled signs and radar controls for a long time; iirc dating back to before 2000. – Guntram Blohm supports Monica Jun 4 '16 at 12:32
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Currently, 52% of the German motorways do not have a speed limit, 15% have temporary speed limits due to weather or traffic conditions and 33% have permanent speed limits. On unlimited sections there is a 130 km/h recommendation.

German Autobahn Speed Limit Information

German autobahns have no federally mandated speed limit for some classes of vehicles. However limits are posted (and enforced) in areas that are urbanized, substandard, accident-prone, or under construction. On speed-unrestricted stretches, an advisory speed limit (Richtgeschwindigkeit) of 130 kilometres per hour (81 mph) applies Autobahns

So, in answer to your question - these temporary posted limits are enforced in 'areas that are urbanised, substandard, accident-prone, or under construction.' They can be enforced by speed cameras, but more likely mobile checkers.

For information on where you can find certain speed limits, see this question

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    I am not sure this really addresses the question. – Relaxed Jun 4 '16 at 10:48
  • Why not @Relaxed ? It answers 'are they enforced' as asked. – Nathan Shoesmith Jun 4 '16 at 10:52
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    Because the evidence is very thin and only pertains to another kind of temporary limits. I can vouch that speed limits around roadworks are enforced as well but those are stable limits, with regular signs that do not change during several months so it's easy to see how the police might set a regular speed camera on that speed limit. But that's not what the question is about. – Relaxed Jun 4 '16 at 11:03

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