Driving abroad can be a challenging venture and requires a bit of courage. But with some idea of what to expect and where rules and local driving behaviour differ from what you know, you can prepare for your journey. So here are a couple of tips for driving in Germany.
German road users are very stuck to traffic rules, so much so that you will see pedestrians waiting at Zebra crossings, in the middle of the night, on a street devoid of any traffic. They won’t walk. The light is red.
1. The right speed
Speed is measured in km per hour. Speed limits are 50km/h in towns, 100km/h on ordinary highways and 130km/h on the Autobahn (this is not strictly a limit but a recommendation)
You’ll also find the idea of an inverted speed limit, or in other words: Don’t drive too slow. If the sign reads 70, drive 70 (but keep in mind that this is kilometres, not miles). Do not be slow. On German roads you might find yourself tailgating or being tailgated, and little in between. If you think this is an exaggeration, you might be right. But you might also remember these words when you are driving 60 km/h on a curvy road in rural Germany, speed limit 70, and behind your car is a long queue of impatient drivers who really had enough of you driving “snail speed” (Schneckentempo). Memorize that word. You will hear it a lot, and many others. There is no better way of learning German swearwords than joining a German driver.
2. Traffic Lights
Never ever fall asleep at a red traffic light. As soon as it turns green, you have to be on your way to avoid angry beeping coming from the cars behind you. Beeping might also happen if you are waiting at a traffic light, wanting to turn right, and you miss the little green arrow showing that you might drive despite the red light – if there is no other traffic. It is an East German invention that has been warmly welcomed in West Germany after the reunification.
Always take care of pedestrians when turning. Even if your traffic light shows green, there might still be pedestrians crossing who also have a green light, and the right of way is theirs.
3. Right of Way
Never make a mistake on right of way. “Vorfahrt” is so important that a proverb says that “Mercedes and BMW cars come with Vorfahrt preinstalled”. No matter what car, most drivers will insist on this right, no matter what, so mistakes can be expensive.
Keep in mind that the vehicle coming from the right has right of way by default, unless signs or traffic lights say different. If you turn left, you have to give way to all oncoming vehicles.
4. What to do in an Emergency
If any of that ever goes wrong and you end up in an accident, consider calling the police to secure responsibilities. Officially, the police can charge you a fee if they have to come out despite the accident being minor. As a foreign driver, it’s probably the better idea to involve officials. Police will ask for your driver’s license and other documentation (for example proof that the car you drive is really yours). Unlike in Britain, you can’t produce this paperwork later at a police station, you have to carry it with you.
Hopefully, you will not end up in any situation including injuries. But if you do, or even if you witness an accident just passing by, be aware that Germany has a Good Samaritan law. You are required to help, at a minimum you have to call help, you cannot ignore a critical situation as a witness. The number for emergency calls in Germany is 112.
For this reason, every car driving in Germany needs a standardised First Aid kit, a reflective jacket and a warning triangle. If you are driving your British car in Germany, don’t forget to adjust the headlamps for the other side of the road, so you don’t dazzle oncoming traffic. If your car doesn’t allow for this adjustment, you can buy headlamp beam deflectors.
5. …and most importantly!
Do not forget it, however tempting it might be.
When in Germany, do as the Germans do:
Drive on the right side 😉
*Disclaimer: Before you drive abroad, please inform yourself appropriately on traffic rules and regulations of your insurance. This article does not claim to be official advice and cannot guarantee completeness or accuracy.