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Driving in Germany: the ultimate guide

From car enthusiasts to cultured beer lovers, Germany has proven to be one of the most popular European destinations around. Search for any list of Europe’s top cities, and you’ll always see Berlin, Munich and Hamburg keeping company with the likes of London, Paris, Barcelona and Rome.

But what makes Germany so popular with petrol heads in particular? For one, the country has fantastic motorway links with the rest of Europe, making driving to Germany a doddle. Second, and let’s be honest, this is a biggy. It’s hard to ignore the 7,500 miles of Autobahn. 

The Autobahn is incredibly well maintained and, in certain sections, motorists are able to power past 80kph and put the pedal to the metal thanks to unrestricted speed limits. Now, despite these thrilling lengths of motorway, Germany still has plenty of Autobahn rules and general driving laws you must abide by. 

So, to help you travel around the country safely, we’ve compiled our ultimate guide of rules for driving in Germany.

Requirements for driving in Germany

Das wichtigste zuerst (that’s ‘first things first’ – we’ll try and teach you a little lingo along the way), let’s look through a list of what you need to drive in Germany. 

Before you set off, you’ll need to make sure that you have the following documentation: 

  • Full driver’s license
  • Your passport
  • Proof of insurance
  • Proof of ownership (V5C certificate) 

You’ll also need: 

  • High vis jackets
  • Warning triangle
  • Headlight converters
  • First aid kit
  • Safety helmet (for motorcyclists) 

Though we can’t help with your documents (that part is all down to you, sorry), we can sort out the lower half of this list; our essential European driving kit contains all you need to drive in Germany. 

It’s worth mentioning that driving in Germany after Brexit may require drivers to carry additional documentation, depending on the outcome of Britain leaving the EU. In the event that this happens, we’ll update this blog with all the latest, up-to-date information and requirements.

Driving rules in Germany

Now that you’ve got a driving kit and the correct documentation, it’s time to familiarise yourself with the rules of the road before driving in Germany. First of all, let’s looks at German speed limits. 

Speed limit in Germany

Road typeSpeed limit
Built-up area50 kph
Single carriageway100 kph
Dual carriageway130 kph
Motorway130 kph

As we touched upon earlier, The Autobahn has many sections (generally in rural areas) that have no speed limit. However, there are Autobahn speed limits in and around populated areas that you must abide by. 

If you’re entering a stretch of Autobahn with no speed limit, you’ll see a circular white sign with five diagonal black lines across it. You’re able to travel as fast as your vehicle will allow in these areas. But, you should always stay on the right-hand side of the motorway and be aware of cars appearing behind you that are using these light signals:

  • Vehicles travelling behind with flashing headlights: if you spot flashing lights in your rear-view mirror, it’s likely a signal that somebody is about to break the sound barrier right behind you. In instances such as this, simply move into the right lane safely and as soon as possible to let them pass.
  • Vehicles travelling in front using hazard lights: this is usually a signal that the vehicle in front of the car ahead of you has stopped suddenly. Slow down immediately and switch on your hazards to warn any drivers behind you. 

German speeding fines

Achtung (that’s ‘caution’)! You should always keep an eye out for German speed limit signs. Police are able to issue on-the-spot fines up to the tune of €35 for any traffic violations on German roads. 

Drivers will need to pay any fines the week after they’ve been issued to avoid any further legal action. A €35 fee may also be collected as a deposit for higher fines and more serious misdemeanours. 

Priority on the road

Priority on the road in Germany is a little different to many other European countries:

  • Traffic from the right has priority at all crossroads and junctions
  • Vehicles travelling on a roundabout have right of way unless signposted otherwise
  • Vehicles must only indicate when they are exiting a roundabout, not when entering
  • All emergency vehicles that are operating flashing lights have priority

Alcohol limit in Germany

It’s no secret that Germany is pretty famous for beer. Even though you’ll see people drinking it by the stein-full, you’ll find that drinking laws in Germany are actually stricter than here in the UK.

A maximum blood alcohol volume of 0.05% is allowed for experienced drivers of private vehicles. However, there is a zero-tolerance rule for foreign drivers, motorists under 21-years old, or those with less than two years experience on the road.

The simplest way to avoid any embarrassment and potential fines, of course, is to just stay away from the bierkellers if you’re going to get behind the wheel. 

German road signs

Most German traffic signs follow the conventional designs seen across Europe, however, there are a fair few exceptions that you should be aware of: 

  • A blue rectangular sign with numbers in white indicates the speed limit
  • A blue rectangular sign with a white upwards arrow, the letter ‘U’, and a white figure signals a diversion for motorway traffic 
  • A blue rectangular sign that contains symbols of a white car, house, and people signals a residential area where drivers must take special care and be able to perform an emergency stop
  • A rectangular sign containing the word ‘Zone’ and prohibitive labelling (e.g. ‘no entry’) applies to an area until signalled otherwise 
  • A yellow rectangular sign with the word ‘Umleitung’ in black and a black border signals a diversion 
  • An inverted triangle with a green border, the image of an eagle, and the words ‘Landschafts Schutzgebiet’ (‘protected countryside’) signals that no parking is allowed either by the roadside or outside of designated parking zones

Traffic lights in Germany follow the international three-colour system. The only exceptions are: 

  • Red lights with a green arrow signalling to the right indicate that drivers may turn right, but must give way to other motorists and pedestrians 
  • A red flashing light at railway level crossing signals an approaching train 

Parking in Germany

It’s no surprise that parking in Germany is pretty slick, straightforward and sehr effizient (‘very efficient’).

German parking signs are plentiful and zones are clearly marked with the standard designs that you’re accustomed to across Europe. In many inner-city locations, there are no parking meters on streets, instead, you’ll find ticket dispensing machines that accept coins and card. 

It’s a good idea that you pay up rather than risk a short stay, as German parking regulations are notoriously strict. You’re likely to receive a fine of up to €35 or even have your vehicle towed, which can result in an expensive retrieval fee between €100 and €300. 

Restricted parking in Germany

You should not park in the following areas: 

  • Locations marked by a ‘parking prohibited’ sign 
  • Within ten metres of traffic lights
  • Within five metres of a pedestrian crossing or intersection 
  • Within 15 metres of a signposted area for public vehicle stops
  • If you’re blocking vehicle entry to buildings
  • On the opposite side to a building entrance on a narrow street, if doing so results in obstructing the road
  • Along the kerb facing oncoming traffic 
  • Along a carriageway of a priority road outside of a built-up area
  • In a cycle lane
  • Beside a traffic island

Disabled parking in Germany

Disabled motorists and Blue Badge holders are granted the following parking concessions: 

  • Unlimited free parking at pay and display spaces
  • A maximum of three hours stay in a parking space reserved for residential permit holders
  • A maximum of three hours parking free in a restricted or no parking zone
  • Permission to park in pedestrian zones during loading and unloading times

For more information on disabled parking abroad, read our ‘Using a Blue Badge in Europe’ guide. 

Towing in Germany

If you’re towing a trailer in Germany or planning on taking a caravan, you’ll need to bear in mind the following towing guidelines: 

  • Your vehicle must be equipped with side rear-view mirrors (these mirrors may exceed the width of the caravan, but must be foldable)
  • The towed item must not exceed four metres in height
  • The towed item must not exceed 12 metres in length
  • The towed item must not exceed two and a half metres in width
  • The total length of the vehicle and item in tow must not exceed 18.75 metres
  • An item towing a motorcycle must not exceed an overall width of one metre

Das ist es (‘that is it’), all you need to know in one handy, helpful Green Flag guide. 

You’re now free to own the Autobahns or traverse a straßen (‘street’) safe in the knowledge that you’re fully clued up on the dos and don’ts of driving in Germany. 

If you’re yet to pick up one of our all-encompassing European driving kits, just click right here.

Auf wiedersehen and gute reise (‘goodbye’ and ‘happy travels’).