|Home : Driving : Traffic Laws & Regulations|
|GERMAN TRAFFIC LAWS & REGULATIONS|
Below is a rather complete overview of the German traffic code based on my interpretation. This information is from a variety of sources including the 1987 Fahren Lernen driver's education manual and the 1993 official Straßenverkehrs-Ordnung (Road Traffic Ordinances) distributed by the Federal Transport Ministry as well as numerous contributions by readers. Special thanks to Tino Haderlein and Wolfgang Meyenberg for their review of these pages.
The most important section here for foreigners is the right-of-way discussion.
If you are visiting Germany and will not be establishing residency, then your current driver's license is valid in Germany indefinitely. If you will be residing in Germany, your driver's license is valid for six months from the date when permanent residency is established. After that, you will have to obtain a German driver's license. (If your residency will be for longer than six months but less than one year [you will need proof of this], you can obtain a six month extension to use your existing license.)
If you're using a foreign license to drive in Germany, you're supposed to carry an official translation of your license in addition to the license itself, but if you speak the language well enough, I've found that you should be OK. If you should get into a situation where you need to have a translation, you can get one from the ADAC automobile club for about €40. If you want to have a bit of "insurance", you can take care of this before arriving by getting an International Driver's License (IDL) in your home country. In the US, these are available from AAA for about US$20. (My recommendation: get an IDL before you go-- better safe than sorry.) Keep in mind that an IDL does not replace your official driver's license-- it is just a translation of it in an internationally recognized format. You must carry your official license with your IDL.
If you will be in stationed in Germany with the US military, you will need to obtain a driver's license issued by the US Armed Forces. See the USAREUR driver's handbook at http://rmv.hqusareur.army.mil/newregs.htm. Then come back here for a supplemental guide!
If you are not affiliated with the US military and are going to be living in Germany longer than one year, you will need to get a German Driver's License (Führerschein). To do this, you must have a valid license in your home country and have not lived in Germany for more than three years. The process starts with a visit to the local traffic office (Straßenverkehrsamt). Where you're from will determine what happens next. Germany has reciprocal agreements with many countries and US states allowing driver's licenses to be converted. If you're lucky, you may have to do nothing more than fill-out some paperwork. Otherwise, you may have to take just the written test or go through the whole testing procedure. When conversion is possible, only holders of non-commercial vehicle licenses can convert their existing license to a German license.
If your license was issued in one of the following US states, you can convert your license to a German license without any testing: Alabama, Arizona, Arkansas, Colorado, Delaware, Illinois, Kansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Massachusetts, Mississippi, New Mexico, Pennsylvania, South Dakota, Utah, Virginia, West Virginia, Wisconsin, Wyoming.
Licenses from these US states require the applicant to take just the written test: Connecticut, District of Columbia, Florida, Idaho, Michigan, Missouri, Nebraska, North Carolina, Oregon, Tennessee.
Conversion of licenses from all other US states will require you to take both the written and practical (road) tests.
For details of the agreements with other countries, contact the German traffic office or your country's embassy or consulate in Germany.
If you can convert your license without testing, simply complete the required paperwork and submit it
If you have to take the written test, it will given at the traffic office. The test consists of sections covering rules, signs, vocabulary, theory, and energy conservation. To prepare for the test, you can study this site and/or take a course at a German driving school. Be wary, though-- you just want the short rules and signs class, not the full driving course. The latter course currently costs around €1,250 and consists of 25-45 hours of instruction, 12 hours of theory, and oodles of practical experience including night and Autobahn driving. Make sure you ask for the special class for new residents. If a school tells you they don't offer it, find one that does.
If you have to take the practical on-the-road test, it will be conducted by a driving school (Fahrschule) and will last about an hour. It will most likely include a short trip on the Autobahn. If you need practice, most driving schools offer short courses to prepare for the practical test as well.
Once you pass these tests, you will have a German driver's license which is good for life!
The minimum age to drive in Germany is 18. Traffic drives on the right and passes on the left. Seatbelts must be worn by all passengers. Children under 12 years old and smaller than 1.5 meters may not sit in the front seat unless they are in an approved child safety seat. However, you may not use a child safety seat in the front seat if there is an airbag. You must leave your doors unlocked while driving (to facilitate rescue in an accident.) Vehicles must carry a warning triangle (Warndreieck) and a special highway first aid kit (Pkw-Verbandkasten). Germany does not require a fire extinguisher (Feuerlöscher), but you may want one anyway. You must place the warning triangle 100 meters behind your vehicle (200 meters on the Autobahn) if it is disabled. It is illegal to drive with your parking lights only; you must use your headlights (low-beam) at night and during inclement weather. Motorcyclists must wear helmets and drive with the headlight on at all times.
The police are allowed to collect fines (Verwarnungsgeld) for traffic offenses of up to €50 on the spot. However, you may be allowed to pay it within the following week. You will probably be required to post a bond/deposit, though, or else your vehicle will be impounded (at additional cost to you, of course.) You should not worry about paying fines on the spot; the German police are very professional, and corruption is very rare.
Beware of enforcement cameras. Germany probably uses such cameras more than anyone else. Automatic cameras are stationed to catch speeders and red-light violators. Sometimes an obscure sign will warn you of the existence of such a camera, but it's usually too late by then. The tickets are mailed to the registered owner of the vehicle within a few weeks. If you're driving a rental car, the ticket will go to the rental agency. They, in turn, will report you to the police as the driver of the vehicle and will forward the ticket to you. An interesting footnote: the police stopped sending a copy of the photo a few years ago when several spouses discovered cases of infidelity when they opened the violation notice. Now, you have to go to the police station yourself to see the photo and contest it if you so desire. Such an effort is usually fruitless, though.
Germany uses a hierarchical system to determine right-of-way (Vorfahrt) at intersections. The following list shows this hierarchy:
Other right-of-way rules: In situations of otherwise equal right-of-way, vehicles going straight have priority, followed by right turns; left turns go last. Unless otherwise marked (which it usually is), traffic entering a roundabout has the right-of-way. Emergency vehicles with a flashing blue light and siren sounding always have the right-of-way (of course); you must pull-over to the right-hand side of the road when one approaches. You should yield to streetcars at intersections. Don't pass a stopped streetcar if it is discharging passengers directly onto the street. You may continue on when the doors have closed. Buses leaving a marked bus stop have the right-of-way. On narrow road sections, the sign gives you the priority over oncoming traffic, and the sign means you must yield to oncoming traffic. On narrow mountainous roads, traffic going uphill has the right-of-way. On roads where passing is difficult or not allowed, slower traffic is required to pull over when possible to allow faster traffic to go by (waysides are sometimes provided for this purpose.) Pedestrians always have the right-of-way when in a crosswalk.
In Germany, there is a set of general or "default" speed limits (Geschwindigkeitbeschränkung). These are the limits you must obey in the absence of signs:
(* A decal resembling a
speed limit sign displayed on the back of a vehicle indicates that it is exempt
from this general limit and may travel the speed indicated on the label.)
Signs, of course, supercede these default limits.
Beware of signs. These indicate the speed limit for an entire neighborhood. The 30 speed limit remains in effect on all streets within the zone until you pass a sign.
Here are a few things about speed limit signs to be aware of:
Misc. speed rules:
|DRINKING & DRIVING|
The penalties for driving under the influence in Germany are harsh. Severe penalties are assessed to first time offenders, usually including the loss of your license. The blood alcohol limit is now 0.05. With the high alcohol content of German social beverages, it doesn't take long to hit the limit. And, if you have an accident, the courts may determine whether alcohol was a factor even if your blood alcohol content is below the limit. The best advice is: If you drink AT ALL, don't drive! Keep in mind that driving under the influence of drugs is also illegal.
General Rules: In Germany, you are considered "parked" if you leave your vehicle or if you stop/stand for longer than 3 minutes, unless you are boarding or discharging passengers or loading or unloading cargo.
You may not park:
You may not stop or stand (on the side of the road):
Except where prohibited (see above), on-street parking is generally permitted. When you park, there must be a gap of a least 3 meters between your vehicle and the middle of the street or the nearest lane separator. In many places, you may park partially or entirely on the sidewalk to fulfill this requirement. Look for signs permitting this or other vehicles doing so before you do it. If you do, make sure there is sufficient room for pedestrians on the sidewalk. Vehicles over 2.8t may not park on the sidewalk.
You must park on the right side of the street unless:
You may not park, stop, or stand in a traffic lane if there is a shoulder or parking lane.
When parking on a street at night, you must use your parking lights unless you are parked near an all-night street light. Street lights that do not remain on for the entire night are marked by a white and red band around the lamppost.
The sign indicates where parking is permitted on streets or gives directions to an off-street parking facility. When used to mark on-street parking, it is usually accompanied by additional signs indicating when parking is permitted, who is permitted to park, or that the use of a parking permit, voucher, or disc is required. For more information on finding parking in cities and using parking facilities, see the Driving & Parking in German Cities page.
Parking Control Zones: The sign indicates the entrance to an area or neighborhood where there is a general parking restriction. Supplemental signs will indicate what that restriction is, such as parking restricted to residents or certain permit holders or a requirement to use a parking voucher or disc (see below.) All streets in the area are included in this restriction until the sign is reached.
Parking vouchers, discs, and meters: Signage for on-street may require you to use a voucher, disc, or meter to restrict the length of time you may park. See the Driving & Parking in German Cities page for information on using each of these systems.
Violations: Parking fines generally range from €5-25 and if you are obstructing traffic or a driveway, your vehicle will almost surely be towed, and quite quickly. In such an event, call the police to settle the situation.
|URBAN TRAFFIC REGULATIONS|
The sign marks the entrance to a built-up area. Upon passing this sign, several special traffic regulations go into effect:
The sign indicates that you are leaving the built-up area and its associated traffic regulations. The following general regulations resume:
|TRAFFIC CALMING ZONES|
Traffic calming zones (Verkehrsberuhigte Zone) are usually implemented on small residential streets to increase safety. The start of a traffic calming zone is marked by the sign and the sign marks the end of such a zone. In this zone, the following rules apply:
|AUTOBAHN TRAFFIC REGULATIONS|
Special rules apply when driving on the Autobahn. These are listed on the Autobahn page.
If the unforturnate should happen and you should be involved in an accident, the steps to take are basically similar to those in the US. Here's a list of what you should do:
Traffic signs, signals, and markings
Home : Driving in Germany
Getting Around Germany links
© This page and all of its contents are Copyright 2002 by Brian K. Purcell
NOTICE: The information contained on this site is provided "as-is". Although I make reasonable efforts to keep it updated, I make no guarantee regarding accuracy and assume no responsibility for inconveniences or other issues arising from its use. All opinions expressed are strictly my own.