Germany: land of the Autobahn, wonderful cars, precision engineering, and efficiency. With its incredible road network and breathtaking scenery, Germany is a natural choice for a road trip. But like any other country it has its unique rules and conventions when it comes to driving.
Licence and documentation
All you need to drive in Germany is a full and valid UK driving licence, so don’t worry about an International Driving Permit.
Make sure you carry the following documents on you at all times:
- Your full licence
- Your V5C certificate to prove ownership of your car
- Your passport
- Proof of insurance
Compulsory equipment when driving in Germany
Safety on the roads in Germany is a big deal, and there are safety items you must carry in the car at all times. These are:
- Warning triangle (compulsory in all vehicles with four wheels or more)
- Reflective safety jackets
- First aid kit
- Beam deflectors
- Safety helmet if riding a motorcycle
If you’re driving where there may be snow or ice then you can either have winter tires fitted or carry snow chains. Although they aren’t compulsory, just be aware that if you have an accident in snowy conditions and don’t have either, then you are automatically considered partially to blame for the accident.
Driving rules in Germany
The following isn’t an exhaustive list of rules and regulations, but these are the most important ones to stick to.
Unless there are signs stating otherwise, the following speed limits apply when driving in Germany:
- Motorways – 130 km/h
- Main roads - 100 km/h
- Urban areas – 50 km/h
Many parts of the Autobahn have no speed limit, which is indicated by a circular white sign with five diagonal black lines. You can drive as fast as you feel safe, but just be aware that cars can appear suddenly behind you, so take extra care when overtaking.
If you are towing a caravan or trailer you have to display a 100 km/h sticker at all times.
The three-colour light system is in use. However, a red light with a green arrow pointing right allows motorists to turn right at a red light if they give way to other drivers and pedestrians.
At railway crossings a red flashing light means that a train is approaching, and all traffic must stop until the train has passed and the lights cease flashing.
Although Germans love their beer, which is some of the finest in the world, they prize responsibility. Drink driving restrictions are even tighter than in the UK with a maximum level of blood alcohol volume of 0.05%. But there is a zero tolerance rule in effect for drivers who have less than two years experience or are under 21.
Police can request a breath test if they pull you over and suspect you are driving under the influence. If you refuse, you’ll have to take a blood test.
Seatbelts and child safety
Seatbelts must be worn at all times by both the driver and passengers. Failure to do so while driving in Germany will result in a fine.
If you’ve got children with you, then remember:
- Children aged under three cannot travel without a child seat.
- Children aged three or over must travel in the rear seats.
- Any child under the age of 12 and less than 1.5m tall must use a child seat or restraint.
- If a child seat or restraint is not available, and the child is over three, they may use a standard seatbelt.
- All child seats and safety equipment must conform to European standards.
Priority on the road
Priority on the road is a bit different in Germany:
- Traffic coming from the right takes priority at all crossroads and junctions.
- Vehicles on a roundabout have right of way, unless signs indicate they don’t.
- Do not indicate when you enter a roundabout, only when about to exit.
- Any emergency vehicle that has flashing lights has priority, even if there is no siren.
In Germany the sign that indicates ‘no overtaking’ means you cannot overtake a vehicle with more than two wheels. So if you’re in a car then feel free to overtake a motorbike, but don’t overtake a car, lorry or other four-wheeled vehicle.
If two or more lanes are travelling in the same direction and traffic has built up it is OK to overtake on the inside.
A lot of German towns and cities have tram networks and these need special consideration. When in motion on a two-way street, trams must be overtaken on the right, unless space is inadequate in which case they may be overtaken on the left. On a one-way street trams can be overtaken on either side.
If you are taking a caravan or trailer with you when driving in Germany remember the following guidelines:
- Your car must be equipped with side rear-view mirrors. These may exceed the width of the caravan, but must be foldable.
- The towed item cannot exceed 4 metres in height.
- The towed item cannot exceed 12 metres in length.
- The towed item cannot exceed 2.5 metres in width.
- The total length of vehicle and towed item cannot exceed 18.75m.
- If towing an item with a motorcycle the overall width cannot exceed 1m.
You’ll no doubt need to park up during your trip, and you don’t want to fall foul of Germany’s parking regulations. If you are hit with an on-the-spot fine and cannot (or refuse to) pay, then your vehicle can be confiscated.
In Germany a vehicle is considered parked if it is stationary for more than three minutes. You are not permitted to park in the following circumstances:
- Within 10m of traffic lights
- Closer than 5m to pedestrian crossings and intersections
- Closer than 15m to a bus stop or other public vehicle area
- By the kerbside facing oncoming traffic
- Blocking entry to buildings, or on the opposite side of the street from an entrance if this makes the road too narrow for vehicles to access
- At any place marked with a parking prohibited sign
- On a bike lane
- Next to a traffic island
Following these rules and tips should make driving in Germany smooth and enjoyable. Before you head out make sure you’ve got sufficient European breakdown cover, because the last thing you want to ruin your holiday is the cost and worry of fixing your car abroad.
Get covered in Europe
With our Euro Plus annual cover, you’ll get both our 5* rated UK cover and cover for Europe, with up to 40% off when you buy online.