History of the speed limit – The Emergency Lane

The speed limit on the highway has now been 100 km/h during the day for just over a year. Before that, it was 130 km/h on many highways and that still applies on some routes in the evenings and at night. The time when there was no speed limit at all is not as long ago as you might think.

The speed limit in the Netherlands has an interesting past. Many people will not know better than that there is a limit on all roads and see the German Autobahn as a special exception. However, it was not even that long ago that in the Netherlands you were allowed to decide for yourself what you found a pleasant speed on the highway. The maximum speed on the highways was introduced in our country ‘only’ in 1974.

So there was no limit before that time. Of course, dangerous driving behavior was enforced to a certain extent, but those who wanted to drive 200 km/h on the A1 could go ahead. It must be said that at that time you had to have a decent car to reach that speed. Even 140 km/h was no fun in many cars, if they made it at all. In the early 1970s, however, many cars were already a lot more capable than in the 1950s and so it was increasingly easier to drive very fast. Of course, this often led to major accidents, often with fatalities, since the cars left enough to be desired in terms of safety. Every year around 3,000 people are killed in traffic. The call for action grew and finally, on February 6, 1974, something fundamental changed on the country’s highways and motorways: a speed limit was introduced.


From that day on, you were not allowed to go faster than 100 km/h on the highways and highways. Outside built-up areas, the limit was set at 80 km/h. Basically the same as today. Incidentally, the maximum speed of 50 km/h in built-up areas has been in effect since 1957. Enforcement of the speed limit on the highway was child’s play in the years immediately after its introduction compared to now. Route controls did not yet exist and measuring the speed of a moving car was still in its infancy. The most important enforcement was done by the men and women of the National Police who, while patrolling the Netherlands, put speed demons aside. They had the well-known Porsches at their disposal since the 1960s, so that no one in his daily mode of transport could be too quick with them.

History of the speed limit – The Emergency Lane

In practice, exceeding the speed limit remained something you could easily get away with well into the 1980s. Just pay close attention to make sure there wasn’t a police car around and you could hit the gas. The emergence of section checks, mobile speed cameras and the growing use of (increasingly unobtrusive) surveillance cars gradually changed this.


Not only was there little reason in the beginning to follow the limit neatly because of the low chance of being caught, the support for the maximum speed in the Netherlands was also not very large. Of course everyone agreed that the number of road casualties had to be reduced, but the suspicion was that the government was not really interested in that. After all, it almost coincided with the oil crisis and was therefore seen by many as a measure that was purely intended to reduce fuel consumption.

There was also suspicion about the motives of the prime minister at the time, Joop den Uyl. Kees Vogel, the founder and former commander of the General Traffic Service, gave in an interview in 2004 that it was ‘all political’. According to him, PvdA member Den Uyl would have been in favor of the maximum speed for a ‘levelling’ motive. “That was not said out loud, but afterwards I personally heard it from the mouth of former Prime Minister Joop den Uyl. He saw all those rich people racing down the road with large, fast cars and compared that with the ordinary man who did. 150 kilometers per hour wanted, but with the wind at his back his Deux Chevaux reached 110 kilometers at best, so the maximum speed was low, at 100 kilometers per hour.”

Increase in speed limit

In a sense, the maximum speed developed along with the car industry. Cars were able to drive faster than 100 km/h more easily and safely. In 1988 there was a line through 100 km/h as a limit and the upper limit was raised to 120 km/h. This happened gradually from 1 May on more and more roads. The new maximum speed did depend on the road layout. For example, 100 km/h remained the limit on motorways and also on some highway sections. An important caveat with the increase of the maximum speed was that there was much more emphasis on enforcement. After all, there were now techniques that can still provide mail from Leeuwarden today.

120 km/h remained the undisputed maximum speed for 12 years, but about ten years ago, something really started to bubble up in that area for the first time. There was talk of an increase to 130 km/h and that was put into practice with a test on the Afsluitdijk and later in 2011 also on various other routes. The aim was to investigate whether it was an option for the entire country. In the end, the House of Representatives agreed and voted in favor of an increase to 130 km/h, which took effect on 1 September 2012. Remained. The maximum speed was also reduced when rush-hour lanes were opened.

Until March last year, the limit of 130 km/h lasted. Then in one fell swoop we went back to 100 km/h (between 6 a.m. and 7 p.m. during the day), the limit that applied until 1988. This reduction was implemented with the nitrogen crisis as the reason. A lower maximum speed would have a beneficial effect on nitrogen emissions in the Netherlands, which was desperately needed, partly because construction projects came to a standstill to a large extent due to the national exceedance of nitrogen standards. Again, the change is not without controversy. The effect of the speed reduction on national nitrogen precipitation would be ‘marginal’. In November 2020, a study found that one turkey farmer would negate the benefit. However, there is no real prospect of change, the chance seems small that a new cabinet will increase the maximum speed again. This week it was announced that the support for 100 km/h as a maximum speed leaves something to be desired.

Recent Articles

Related Stories