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Quick Guide For Safe Driving in Germany

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While chatting with an old friend the other day about my stay in Germany, I was asked if it was always weird driving on the left side of the road.

Trying not to laugh, I told him it was not weird because they do not drive on the left side of the road. This inspired me to write this article, which I hope will shed some light on the basics of driving in Germany.

I will start with some common-sense information like your driver’s license. Of course, your driver’s license may not authorize you to drive in Germany if you are not a German citizen.

What to Know About Driving in Germany

Driving in the Rhine Valley, Germany
Kyle Kroeger / ViaTravelers

You must contact your local license branch (BMV) and learn the steps needed to receive an international driver’s license. This sounds scary, but relax – most driver’s licenses worldwide (including the US, UK, and any EU nation) are fine when renting a car.

Next, of course, while arriving in Germany, you must have a car to drive there. Now, you need to rent a car from a car rental company in Germany, which is a pretty easy process.

Most service representatives speak English and will be happy to help you out. We also recommend booking a car through RentalCars.com, where you can compare pricing from the world’s most reputable rental car companies.

Now you must know the traffic laws and the “meat and potatoes” of driving in Germany. If you are an American or have driven in the US, you will find that driving in Germany is not much different.

Without telling you every single travel law written in Germany, I will try to shed some light on some of the major differences:

Requirements for International Drivers

RequirementDescription
Validity of Foreign License– U.S., U.K., and EU licenses are valid for up to 6 months
– After 6 months, an International Driving Permit (IDP) is required
Obtaining an International Driving Permit– Apply at your local automobile club or designated authority
– Valid for 1 year
– Costs around $20
Rental Car Process– Present a valid driver’s license and IDP (if required)
– Major rental companies: SixtHertzEuropcar
Third-party Liability Insurance– Mandatory for all vehicles in Germany
– Covers damages to third parties in case of an accident
Personal Accident Insurance– Recommended for car owners
– Covers medical expenses and disability benefits in case of an accident

Traffic Lights

Traffic Lights in Dresden, Germany
Olena Znak / Shutterstock

When pulling up to a traffic light, you will notice that, unlike the US traffic lights, which go from green to yellow to red and then directly back to green, German traffic lights will go from red to yellow and then green. This is nothing to worry about.

They want to ensure you have it in gear and are ready to take off. The second, but equally important, thing is the “right on red” rule in the US. This rule DOES NOT EXIST in Germany. If you try to turn right when the traffic light is red, you may find yourself in a lot of pain and a significant lawsuit!

See Related: Public Transportation in Germany

Right Before Left

This is a big one. And one that, if forgotten, can cause serious wrecks! Unlike the law in the US, when you come upon an intersection, if a car is coming from the right to your right, that car has the right-of-way.

Also, when you come to an intersection, and a car is coming from the left, you have the right of way because you are to his/her right. Always be careful though because that other person may be a tourist like you!

See Related: Things to Do in Landshut, Germany

Driving on the Autobahn

German Autobahn During Day

If you think the autobahn is a paradise for people with a lead foot, you may still get a speeding ticket. Although some stretches of the autobahn have no speed limit (effectively 155 mph as that is the speed German cars are limited to), there is a recommended speed limit of 120 kilometers per hour (around 75mph) that most drivers adhere to.

Granted, some exceed this speed recommendation, but now you know you CAN be ticketed on certain stretches. It’s good to know the general tips for driving in Europe as you’ll share the road with plenty of other people, not just Germans.

See Related: Pictures of Germany

Accidents Through Driving in Germany

If you are the first on the scene of an accident in which someone has been injured, you are required by law to assist. Whether you stop and call an ambulance (112, not 911) or provide medical aid, you must do something to help the casualty.

Where is Ausfahrt Germany?

No, Ausfahrt is not a city that seems to pop up everywhere you go. Ausfahrt is the German word for exit.

Speed Limit

Speed Limits in Germany are as follows:

  • 30 km/h in built-up areas
  • 100 km/h outside of built-up areas

The autobahn has no general speed limit but a recommended 120 kilometers per hour. Remember always to obey the posted speed limit signs!

Be Careful of Trains!

This one is pretty self-explanatory. Germany has a LOT of trains, and they run on the same tracks as cars. Always be aware of trains when driving, especially when turning at an intersection.

See Related: Car Museums in Germany to Visit

Are cars in Germany on left-hand or right-hand drive?

classic German audi car

Plenty of people believe that German cars are right-hand drive cars. This is not the case. Almost all cars in Germany are built as left-hand drive cars because, in Germany, you drive on the road’s right lane. This means the driver is in the vehicle’s left car seat.

In short, it’s the same as the US and the majority of countries around the world.

Car Insurance

All cars in Germany must have third-party liability coverage insurance to be registered in the local motor vehicle registry, even rentals. You must always carry proof of your liability insurance in your vehicle with you at all times.

The only other type of insurance that is legally required if you own a car is Personal Accident Insurance (PIA). PIA insures against injuries to the insured person while driving or riding in the car.

You are not required to have comprehensive or collision insurance, but it is highly recommended. If you are in an accident, even if you are not at fault, the other driver can sue you for damages even if you have insurance. It is important to always have proof of your insurance with you when driving.

First Aid Kit

It is required by law to have a first aid kit in your car when driving, even rentals.

Headlights and Tail lights

Germany’s Law on Driving with Lamps states that all vehicles must turn on their headlamps from the beginning of November to the end of April from 6:00 p.m. until 6:00 a.m.

In addition, all vehicles must always have their rear lights on, even during the daytime.

International Driving Permit

If you don’t have a German driver’s license and plan on driving in Germany, you’ll need to obtain an International Driving Permit (IDP) for about $15 or possess one of the accepted international licenses. A valid US driver’s license is usually good enough.

The IDP is an internationally recognized translation of your current driver’s license. If you’re afraid of losing it, you can use it instead of your original license while traveling.

Always Drive with Caution

Driving with a German Flag Out the Window

Pedestrians crossing the street, cyclists in the bike lanes, and people all around you may not be paying attention. Always drive cautiously on German roads, especially when approaching intersections, crosswalks, or pedestrian crossings.

Driving while Intoxicated (DWI) in Germany

Drinking and driving is despised in Germany. If caught driving under the influence of alcohol, drugs, or certain medication, you can be penalized with heavy fines and jail time. You can also lose your driver’s license for up to two years.

Driving while under the influence is just not tolerated in Germany, and it has a huge impact on your wallet as well as your freedom. The blood alcohol limit is 0.05mg, but this can be tested at any time with a blood or breathalyzer test.

Suppose you are caught driving under the influence. In that case, you will have to deal with legal repercussions, including heavy fines, losing your driver’s license, and ALL medical costs associated with the accident.

Driving in Germany is the same as in other countries. Follow the rules and regulations strictly and respect German authorities. Rental cars are available if you don’t own a vehicle there.

FAQ

How to obtain a German driver’s license?

This is the first thing foreigners think of when it comes to driving. The good news is that if you are at least 18 years old, you can exchange your foreign driver’s license for a German one without taking a German driving test.

What if I’m not 18 and I want to drive in Germany?

If you are under 18, you must take a German driving test at your local driver’s registration office to obtain a German driver’s license.

What is the German Autobahn?

The Autobahn is a highway system in Germany that has no speed limit. However, there are recommended speeds; most people drive around 120 km/h (75 mph). A few sections have a posted speed limit of 100 km/h (62 mph) or less.

Can I drive in the left lane?

In Germany, you can only drive in the left lane if you overtake a vehicle. You must drive in the right lane if traveling the speed limit or slower.

Can I use my cell phone while driving?

In Germany, it is illegal to use your cell phone while driving. This includes using it to talk, text, or check social media. If you need to use your phone, you must pull over to the side of the road and stop.

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