Austria's New Higher Speed Limits for Electric Cars Is Our Kind of EV Incentive

The country hopes its new law will encourage more people to make the switch.

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The powers that be have tried countless ways to incentivize electric vehicle ownership and bring about the magic tipping point of widespread adoption. There are state and federal tax credits, special parking spaces, even passes that let solo EV drivers use the carpool lane. But it's this latest plan that should perk up the ears of enthusiasts: Spiegel Online reports that Austria has passed a new law to raise the speed limit for electric vehicles on certain highways.

Unlike neighboring Germany, Austria's autobahn network has a general speed limit of 130 km/h, which works out to 81 mph. But the country also uses a unique speed-based pollution management program on about 20 percent of its roads near population centers; when the air quality drops below a certain threshold, the speed limit in turn drops to 100 km/h (62 mph). There is a considerable difference in both fuel economy and net emissions between those two speeds.

This isn't a rare thing for particularly smoggy days—the limit is almost frequently lowered in certain areas, and the restrictions govern over 270 miles of road. But under the new amendment, drivers of electric vehicles can feel free to ignore the signs and keep cruising along at 80 mph. Austria's Minister of Sustainability told Spiegel that the country wants "to convince people that it pays off in many ways to switch to an e-vehicle."

It makes sense in the immediate. There aren't any emissions spewing forth from that whirring Tesla Model X or Jaguar I-Pace, so why make those drivers suffer the same penalties as those in an internal combustion car? The usual counterargumentthey still have to charge using fossil fuel-produced electricity—also falls apart in a country like Austria, where almost 75 percent of its energy comes from renewable sources. 

But a closer look shows a few issues with the plan. For one, hammering an electric vehicle on the Autobahn might seem like eco-friendly fun, but it's not exactly efficient. Having to charge more often could very well cancel out the minutes saved by not slowing down in the aggregate. Without a dedicated lane, you're relying on the (admittedly solid) passing lane discipline of European drivers to take full advantage of the perk. And of course, with higher speeds comes higher risk in general.

Still, the idea is more interesting than a primo parking spot. Whether or not this alone will actually boost EV ownership remains to be seen—absent this plan, sales of electric vehicles in Austria have more than doubled in the last three years as more options enter the market and diesel continues its dirty decline—but it certainly makes the idea of driving one through Austrian countryside sound more appealing.