Speed limits in Germany - are you joking?

Never mind the peace protests. Forget about provocative environmentalism and those visits to Libya, the Soviet Union, and East Germany. The iconoclastic Green party has finally done something really outrageous: It is proposing a speed limit on West Germany's autobahns.

Antinuclear demonstrations, ecology, and political visits are all within bounds. Speed limits on the highways, however - that's really radical. None of the traditional parties would dare tamper with the German equivalent of motherhood, apple pie, and free access to guns.

Well, Social Democratic chairman Willy Brandt did try it once, back when he was chancellor and the first oil crisis reared its head. But look what happened to him. Although it may not have been the only thing that toppled him, it certainly didn't help keep him in the chancellery. The lesson was learned, and a decade later, it is only the Greens who have the chutzpah to suggest a 100 kilometer-per-hour (60 m.p.h.) ceiling on highways.

On the face of it, the proposal is deceptively rational. Those counterculture buffs are saying, look, every other European country has a speed limit. And we could arrest the killing of forests through acid rain by reducing the nitric oxide exhaust of cars by 13 percent. Moreover (according to Greens member of parliament Wolfgang Ehmke), autos are the ''greatest slaughterers of men in peacetime,'' ''the largest consumers of the countryside,'' the greatest air polluters in the city - and energy wasters to boot.

The Greens won't succeed, though. The center-right coalition rejects such ''energy dirigisme'' and ''demonization of the auto'' and says there is no proof that nitric oxide would be cut 13 percent. What the Greens want to do (according to Christian Democrat August Hanz) is create a ''crawling-lane society.''

The Greens, undaunted, are on to other things. Over the weekend, seven of them were guests of Soviet officials in Moscow - and unfurled banners in Red Square reading ''immediate unilateral disarmament'' and ''honor human rights'' in a three-minute mini-demonstration. Now they're in East Germany doing a repeat performance there.

The Greens will probably succeed in their quest to slow down the Mercedeses and BMWs on the day they succeed in blocking new NATO missile deployments - or, as Soviet Premier Nikita Khrushchev used to say, when shrimps learn to whistle.

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