BONN, OCT. 29 -- It is against the law in Germany to squeeze tomatoes in public markets, use a lawn mower between midday Saturday and Monday or choose a name for a newborn that is not on the official government register.

But cruise onto one of the country's highways and you are finally free. "Free Driving for Free Citizens," a generation of politicians has promised the people. In a society where laws dominate, and sometimes strangle, day-to-day living, you can always take to the open road and floor it.

Now the government is rethinking even that, after a particularly grisly fortnight on the German autobahns. Ten days ago, in a 200-car pileup on a fog-shrouded stretch of the Berlin to Nuremberg highway, 10 people were killed and more than 50 seriously injured. Three more accidents -- all in the past two weeks, all in fog -- added 181 vehicles, 14 deaths and 104 injuries to the tally.

It was a good time, the government figured, to suggest that perhaps the country might be ready for a 38 mph (60 kph) speed limit -- in fog only.

Not a chance. The idea of limiting a driver's right to go as fast as he dares on the country's highways has raised a thick cloud of protest from the automobile club, carmakers and the driving public.

Even Transportation Minister Frederich Zimmermann -- who was recently followed by a reporter from Tempo magazine and clocked driving 55 mph in a small town's 30 mph zone -- still believes that in general "speed limits are unnecessary." But he's willing to make an exception for fog.

The national auto club, for one, is not. "We oppose any exact limit," says Andreas Kippe, spokesman for Germany's powerful club, the ADAC. "We say drivers are sensible enough to slow down when they see fog. If you pass a law with a specific limit, then people may go that speed, even if the conditions require slower driving."

And even if some fog rule gets passed -- don't bet the farm on it -- Germany is firmly resisting a general speed limit.

Kippe says German highways, many of which were built in the massive Nazi public works projects of the 1930s, are so well designed that speed limits are unnecessary. He notes that although 30 percent of German traffic travels on the autobahns, only 4 percent of the country's accidents take place on those roads.

"It's not just German drivers who like to drive fast," he says. "There are Americans and others who come to Germany for vacation so they can drive as fast as they wish. It's a basic desire of man to feel this emotional power of acceleration and speed."

Stefanie Rosenkranz knows about that emotional power. She just returned from a long and nerve-racking autobahn trip from Hamburg to Brussels and back, chugging along at the shamefully slow speed of 65 mph in her trusty little Citroen 2CV, an awkward, waddling, 27-horsepower tin can nicknamed "The Duck."

Rosenkranz, a reporter for Stern magazine, made her journey to report on the lovely, giving, patient ways of her fellow German drivers, the folks in the Mercedeses, BMWs and Audis shooting along the left lane at 100, 120, 140 mph, their headlights and turn signals flashing madly at anyone who dares to block their way.

"The essence of democracy in Germany is not free speech but free speed," Rosenkranz says. "Is it rational to drive 210 kilometers an hour {130 mph} in fog? No, it's asinine. But in a country where everything is regulated and you need to fill out 10 forms to do anything, this is the outlet for all aggression. Germans are so orderly in their daily lives, but on the road, they are out to kill."

Rosenkranz finished her trip soaked in sweat and in desperate need of a soothing cup of tea. "It's human sacrifice on the autobahn."

Along the way, she had lights flashed in her eyes, Mercedeses riding on her rear fender and all manner of obscene gestures tossed her way. (The gestures -- this is Germany, after all -- are illegal. It is utterly routine to be hauled into court for flipping the bird at a fellow motorist.)

"The German driver is more pigheaded than others," said Cologne traffic psychologist Udo Undeutsch. "In addition, many of them take being passed as a personal defeat. The Germans have a tendency to try to teach others something in traffic even if means putting their own car and their own life at risk."

The racetrack mentality persists despite sharp increases in the number of accidents and deaths in the months since the pathetic, plodding East German Trabants began sharing the roads with superpowered West German luxury cars. In the eastern part of Germany, highway deaths jumped by 74 percent in the first nine months of 1990; the western part of the country suffered a 30 percent rise in accidents.

Germans are, of course, not the only people who like to drive fast. U.S. soldiers who serve in Germany quickly start driving as fast as the Germans do, says Wilhelm Leutzbach, director of the Traffic Affairs Institute in Karlsruhe. He believes the difference between German rules of the road and those of the rest of the world is not one of national character but of simple economics.

"The Germans have a very strong and powerful car industry that depends on having no speed limit," he says. "The auto industry would lose one of their best selling points in the export markets -- that they have to build cars so well to serve a Germany without speed limits."

Numerous campaigns to impose speed limits have flopped. Environmentalists argue that slower speeds will reduce exhaust and help save Germany's beloved forests. Safety experts promise fewer deaths with slower traffic. Psychologists explain the connection between stress and the white-knuckle life in the left lane.

Nothing doing. The latest national poll shows that a majority of Germans simply do not believe that speed limits would lower exhaust, noise or stress. The same poll shows that Germans also don't believe that speed limits would hurt the auto industry, improve road manners or steal drivers' valuable time.

No, they just don't want anyone telling them how fast to drive. Even the country's auto club has joined in the search for something deep in the German soul that explains the national passion for speed.

"It is a compensation for the many restrictions in our daily life," Kippe says. "And there was a study that said the greater your sexual problems, the faster you like to drive. There may be a spark of truth to this." This is the spokesman for the auto club speaking.