Guide to Driving in Germany

aerial shot of highway crossovers in Germany

Markus Hanke/Getty Images  

Driving in Germany is a must-have experience for many visitors to Germany. Scenic routes lead you through some of the best of Germany. There are car-lovers attractions like the BMW factory, a racetrack you can drive in, and international car shows.

Not that you need to go out of your way. The experience of driving on the world famous autobahn is practically mandatory when visiting Germany. To make the most out of your drive and to stay safe on the streets of Germany, have a look at the most important rules of the road.

Driving Tips For Germany

Roads are usually well-maintained in Germany and connect every corner of the country. While driving isn't necessary in most major cities, many Germans have a driving license and driver is usually orderly. That said, traffic accidents and the holiday high seasons can cause massive delays (stau).

Always wear a seat belt, even if you are sitting in the back of a car - it is the law in Germany. Children up to the age of 12 have to sit in the back. Babies are required to ride in car seats. Don't talk on the cell phone or text while driving. It is illegal in Germany.

As is the case anywhere, don't drink and drive in Germany. The blood alcohol limit is 0.5 grams per liter. Violators must pay high fines and can lose their driver's license. Punishment is generally much more strict than the USA.

Speed Limits in Germany

  • Speed limits in German cities are 50 kmh (31 mph)
  • On highways, you are not allowed to drive faster than 100 kmh (62 mph), unless otherwise marked.
  • As advertised, there is no speed limit on the Autobahn - except where posted. For example, speed limits are posted in construction zones or in high traffic areas so watch out for these signs. You can get a hefty ticket for speeding on the Autobahn.

The German Autobahn

Despite popular rumors that Adolf Hitler was solely responsible for the creation of the autobahn, the idea was already floating around during the Weimar Republic in the mid-1920s. The National Socialist German Workers' Party (more commonly known as the Nazis) was actually opposed to the idea of an Autobahn at first as they thought it "only benefit rich aristocrats and Jewish big capitalists". Even more pressingly, the country was struggling through an economic crisis and mass unemployment.

However, that story changed once Hitler actually came to power in 1933. The mayor of Cologne, Konrad Adenauer, had already opened the first crossroads-free motorway in 1932 (now known as the A555 between Cologne and Bonn) that the Nazis had downgraded to the status of "country road".

Hitler had realized the value of a federal motorway and wanted the credit for himself. He enthusiastically ordered 130,000 workers to build the world's first Autobahn with plenty of photo ops, but progress was stymied by World War II. 

Every asset was utilized during the war, and that included the burgeoning Autobahn. The medians were paved over to create airstrips, aircraft were parked in its tunnels and the railways proved far superior for transporting goods. The war left the country and the Autobahn in poor shape.

West Germany was quicker to get to work repairing the existing roadways and add connections. The East was slower to repair and some routes were only completed after German reunification in 1990.

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 kmh (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 kmh and approach very suddenly.
  • You must possess a valid driving license which must be carried with you and produced on request. EU and EEA licenses 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 – a one-way street
  • Parken verboten – parking is forbidden
  • Parkhaus – parking garage
  • Tankstelle – gas station
  • Benzin – gas
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