Driving in Germany can both an immensely rewarding, but incredibly frustrating experience. Famed for its sprawling Autobahns and world-leading car manufacturing industry, Germany is one of the driving capitals of Europe, with a higher traffic volume than any other nation on the continent. However, all those extra drivers come at a cost. Germany's injury and accident rate on the road is the highest in Europe.
German traffic and road regulations are vastly different from the United States and elsewhere around the globe. It's pivotal that drivers new to German roads are fully clued up to these rules, as well as international road signs, to ensure as stress and incident free as time on the road possible. You'll find some of the most important driving regulations and information below, along with exhaustive list of German traffic sign information and driving regulations.
Overview of traffic offenses and driving violations by the German Automobile Club (ADAC)
In most cities and towns across Germany, a strict speed limit of 50 km per hour is imposed. When driving on the Autobahn, there is no strictly defined speed limit, although a recommendation of 130 km per hour is advised. If you're having trouble converting kilometers into miles, simply drop the 0 from your kilometer figure and multiply by 6, giving you a rough estimation of the distance in miles.
Driving on the Autobahn
When driving on the Autobahn in Germany, always check the rear view mirror for oncoming traffic before pulling into the left lane. Cars passing by can be travelling upward of 150 km per hour, so ensure any manoeuvre is done quickly and safely. Ignore impatient drivers who may be signalling to you to act more quickly, this practice is against driving laws in Germany. When driving in towns and cities, a fellow driver may use their blinkers as a signal to allow you to pass, but always proceed with caution and only after you're sure the manoeuvre is safe.If you breakdown on the Autobahn, simply refer to arrows located on the posts lining the road. Emergency call boxes are located every 1.5 to 3 km long most stretches of Autobahn, meaning help is never too far away. Simply lifting the receiver will connect the caller to an operator. If your operator doesn't speak English, chances are you'll be promptly connected to one who does. If you don't have access to a smartphone or GPS enabled device, you can determine your exact location by making use of maps and booklets published by the German Autobahn Authority, available freely from most rest areas, service stations and roadside establishments.
Seat Belts and Airbags
It is required by law that everyone in a vehicle, driver and passengers alike, be fitted with a seat belt. If a vehicle is stopped, and either the driver or his/her passengers are not wearing seat belts, or have fitted them incorrectly, a fine of up to 30 Euros can be issued, which can also affect your insurance standing. It is prohibited for children under the age of 12 to ride in the front passenger seat of a vehicle and a safety seat is required for every child riding in a car at any one time.
Driving Under the Influence
When it comes to drinking and driving, German law deviates from American law, and elsewhere in the world. In Germany, anyone with a blood-alcohol level of over 0.5 per mill is deemed over the influence. While it can be tempting to stick within guidelines, avoiding alcohol altogether if you intend to drive is the best option. There are many variables which can affect a the blood-alcohol level and reading, including weight, type of alcohol consumed, other medical factors, etc.German authorities will almost always impose a penalty if a driver is found to be over the legal limit, and in extreme cases can remove a drivers license for an undetermined amount of time. Repeat offenders will face much more stringent repercussions for continuous violations.
Right of Way
On German road, cars and vehicles coming from the right have assumed right of way, unless clearly signed and posted elsewhere in the vicinity. If you're driving in towns or cities, bear in mind that pedestrians have right of way as soon as they cross the road on designated crossings. Like many countries in Europe, Germany has an extensive bicycle path network, meaning drivers need to be extra vigilant when turning to ensure they're not cutting off any oncoming cyclists.
Parking in Germany
In most places in Germany, it's usually okay to park along streets unless clearly signposted otherwise. The parking signage in Germany can be tricky to understand, but offers comprehensive guidance on what's expected of drivers looking to leave their cars stationary. Drivers will be instructed whether to leave their vehicles parked on the sidewalk, or whether they'll need to display a 'Parkscheibe', a cardboard disc to display in windscreens when parking in areas with limited availability. Displaying this disc lets parking wardens know what time you first parked in any given place, and must be displayed at all times. A fine of 5 Euros can be dealt to drivers who fail to display their Parkscheibe permit correctly.
Accidents and Emergencies
If you're involved in, or witness an an accident, make sure you follow the following safety steps until help arrives:
- Stop your vehicle immediately.
- Set up a warning triangle, switch on emergency lights and, if possible, move your own vehicle to the side of the road.
- Assist any injured passengers, or call the emergency services.
- Be as co-operative with police and authorities as possible. Be ready to provide your identification card or details, your automobile registration, drivers license and insurance card.Ensure that you do not leave the scene for any reason, and be sure not to admit any guilt to other parties or the authorities at this stage. You may cause problems for your insurance later. Certainly, never agree to sign anything on the spot, and always be comfortable with the established version of events shared by all parties before contacting your insurance company and making an insurance claim.
If a police officer gestures to you to pull over whilst driving, adhere to the following steps:
- Stop immediately, choosing a safe part of the road to pull over.
- Be sure to cooperate fully with the officer who's pulled you over. Be ready to provide your car registration, license, insurance card and other documents.
- Be prepared to answer questions, but only attempt to answer questions you fully understand.
- Only leave the scene when formally dismissed by your interviewing officer.
Other Driving Cautions in Germany
Although for many drivers, minor bumps and collisions are an expected hazard, be prepared to be extra cautious when driving in Germany. For even the most minor of bumps, a German driver may ask that you provide your details and insurance information for which to make a claim, however the slight the damage might look. Even pulling out of small spaces can incur minor collisions with vehicles around you, so always be vigilant of the vehicles around you, wherever you are.If you do suspect that you may have caused some damage to another vehicle, don't attempt to leave the scene. While in other countries, leaving a note and your contact information for the original driver to contact you is a commonly accepted practice, in Germany it isn't. Always wait to deal with someone in person, or else you run the risk of being landed a much more serious charge down the line.
Missing Vehicle and Registration Documents
Driving and vehicle documents for German drivers are issued for free initially, although replacement documents do come at a small cost. See below for a breakdown of charges for the most common documents drivers will need to stay road worthy:
- Title (or 'Fahrzeugbrief') - 23.60 Euros
- Domestic Registration (or 'Fahrzeugschein') - 10.70 Euros
- International Registration - 10.20 Euros
- German Drivers License - 35.00 Euros
- International Drivers License - 13.00 Euros
Those driving in Germany for the first time can feel overwhelmed by the amount of new rules and regulations for motorists, but keeping on top of the local law and driving culture can make for a massively more rewarding experience.