Germany: land of the Autobahn, wonderful cars, precision engineering, and efficiency. With its incredible road network and breathtaking scenery, Germany is a natural choice for a road trip. But like any other country it has its unique rules and conventions when it comes to driving.
Germany is well-known for having highways with incredibly high speed limits, and even some thoroughfares with no speed limit at all. However, this should not mean that the driving laws in Germany are lax in any way. In fact, there are many sectors along the German highways that have strict speed limits. The speed limits are posted in a prominent fashion, and German police are on the lookout for tourists who do not follow the rules.
There may even be speed limit postings in wide open spaces around the German highways. Because of the advanced surveillance that German police have, there does not need to be an officer on the scene in order for a driver to receive a ticket. In most cases around these wide open spaces, a speeder will be caught by a camera rather than by an officer on the scene. The ticket may not appear for three months, and the driver will not find out about it until he or she opens his mail to receive the surprise.
There are special cases of highway noncompliance that can instantly cause your German drivers license to be suspended. If a driver exceed the speed limit by more than 30 km, that driver may lose the right to drive for up to three months. There may also be a fine incorporated into the punishment.
It is never advisable to run a red light in Germany, even in the most rural areas. Cameras are set up in various locations to find people who run red lights, and the system is becoming more centralized by the day. A blinking yellow light that a driver must come to a complete stop at an intersection; this is different from many other first world countries.
All German vehicles are also required to have seatbelts in the front and back seats of each vehicle. Anyone who is caught not using a seatbelt will have a fine issued on the spot. Children under 12 must ride in the backseat, and they must be transported in a car that is certified by the German government specifically. This usually does not include cars that do not come with backseat seatbelts.
If the lights on your vehicle are in any way broken, you should try not to drive at night in Germany. It is strictly prohibited to drive with parking lights alone in the country.
All cars driving in Germany must have a first aid kit as well as a portable red reflective triangle in the trunk of the car. If a car is stopped on a German highway, the triangle will immediately be placed behind the vehicle in order to warn oncoming drivers. There is also a specific length that the triangle must be placed behind the vehicle depending on the nature of the roadway.
The rules about passing at intersections can be quite difficult to understand in Germany. This is usually one of the portions of the written test that many foreigners will fail. In most cases, drivers that are coming from the right have the right-of-way in Germany. However, this rule can be overridden by a diamond-shaped sign that details the priority roads at intersections. This sign should not be confused with the yield sign in Germany, which is an inverted triangle that has a white interior and a red border. Another sign to look out for is the “traffic calming zone” sign, featuring a walking person and a child kicking a ball.
Unless there are signs stating otherwise, the following speed limits apply when driving in Germany:
- Motorways – 130 km/h
- Main roads – 100 km/h
- Urban areas – 50 km/h
Many parts of the Autobahn have no speed limit, which is indicated by a circular white sign with five diagonal black lines. You can drive as fast as you feel safe, but just be aware that cars can appear suddenly behind you, so take extra care when overtaking.
If you are towing a caravan or trailer you have to display a 100 km/h sticker at all times.
Don’t talk on the cell phone or text while driving. It is illegal in Germany.
Drinking and driving
Although Germans love their beer, which is some of the finest in the world, they prize responsibility. Drink driving restrictions have a maximum level of blood alcohol volume of 0.05% (which is about two small beers). But there is a zero tolerance rule in effect for drivers who have less than two years experience or are under 21.
Police can request a breath test if they pull you over and suspect you are driving under the influence. If you refuse, you’ll have to take a blood test.
German cities are old and there are a lot of one-way streets and not very many intersections where you’re allowed to turn left. City planners have solved this problem by putting left turning lanes a little further past the intersection where drivers can make a U-turn. If you can make a left turn at an intersection, your turn comes after everyone has gone straight through, not before.
No right turn on red
At a German intersection, right turns are only permitted when the light is green unless there is a separate light below the green one with an arrow. In that case, you may only turn right when the arrow is green.
Bikers are everywhere
Many, many people in Germany ride their bikes to work, take their kids to school by bike and just generally to get around on two wheels. This means wherever you are in a German city, you should expect there to be bikes. Every time you turn or get out of a parked car, check that there are no bikers making their way into your path.
Driving tips for the autobahn
- On the Autobahn, you can drive as fast as you feel is safe; the German authorities recommend a “suggested” speed of 130 km/h (80mph). However, note that the Autobahn generally looks like a typical freeway.
- You can only pass another car in the left lane. The right lane is for slower vehicles, and overtaking cars in the right lane is illegal. Unlike the States, this is strictly adhered to.
- Before you pull into the left lane to pass another car, make sure to check the rear view mirror carefully – some cars travel as fast as 200 km/h and approach very suddenly.
- If you need to pass, get it done and then return to the right most lane as soon as you can. The lane the furthest right is for trucks and other slow-moving vehicles. The furthest left lane is for those who wish to test the upper limits of their speedometers.
- If you should wander into the left lane and forget that someone could be hurtling towards you at something approximating the speed of sound, you’ll notice in your rearview mirror flashing lights and someone following you very closely. Just move to the right as soon as possible and all will be well.
- If you’re driving on the highway and you see the car in front flashing its hazard lights, it means that the cars in front of him has stopped suddenly and you should slow down immediately. When you’re driving 200km/h plus, it can be difficult to judge when the car in front is at a standstill. If you’re the last person in line, be courteous and turn yours on.
- You must possess a valid driving license which must be carried with you and produced on request. EU and EEA licences are accepted. If your license was issued by a country outside the EU/EEA, you can only use it for six months from your date of arrival. International Driver’s Licenses are also valid.
Important street signs in Germany
- Ausfahrt – exit
- Umleitung – detour
- Einbahnstraße – one way street
- Parken verboten – parking forbidden
- Parkhaus – parking garage
- Tankstelle – gas station
- Benzin – gas