So many Americans fantasize about driving Porsches and Mercedes on the autobahns at 100-plus mile per hour, and you can. But there’s so much to know about driving in Germany – from autobahn rules to how to react when emergency vehicles come by – before you ever turn that car key. Audrey Schankles at Audrey is (a)Broad has put together the most complete expat guide to driving in Germany we’ve ever read, detailing everything expats simply must know before they head out on the highway.
– Terry Boyd
TOLLS & VIGNETTES
Germany does not charge private vehicles tolls to drive on its roads, though this might be changing in the near future. However if you are driving through Germany to another country, you may run across toll stations at borders and bridges.
Austria and Switzerland have special tolls called Vignettes one must purchase right before they cross the border. They are affixed to the windshield and have different lengths of expiry plus costs. You can also purchase these from ADAC before your trip.
France is also rolling out a Vignette program for certain areas of the country, which will expand in the coming years. One place which is popular with Americans is around Strasbourg, so make sure to pay attention to the new requirements. The difference here is the French version relies on environmental regulations to classify vehicles, whereas Austria and Switzerland uses theirs as more of a toll or tax applied to all visitors.
There are other types of vignettes and tolls in the countries surrounding
Germany, but these are the main three driving destinations. This site appears to be pretty good at staying up to date.
ENVIRONMENTAL PROTECTIONS IN
Germany has had a vehicle permitting system based on environmental controls for years. Cars which do not meet certain standards cannot drive through certain areas of cities and surrounding areas. Your permit must be affixed to your windshield and the license plate numbers must match (a very expensive lesson we learned the hard way, 50 euro ticket x 4 before we figured out why we got the tickets!).
Wiesbaden started an environmental protection program (Green Zones) in 2012. To obtain your Umwelt Plakette, you can order them online here (your vehicle should have been registered in Germany/the EU beforehand) or visit your local mechanic after purchasing or shipping your vehicle.
In 2018, some areas in Germany have begun to ban diesel cars, dependent on weather and traffic conditions. These bans are experimental and may lead to the development of “blue zones” where diesel cars might be banned permanently.
BASIC DRIVING RULES
Driving in Germany is mostly like driving in the USA, with some fun exceptions.
- There is no right turn on red, ever.
- When approaching an intersection, the cars on the main thoroughfare have the right of way (marked by a yellow diamond).
• If the right of way is not marked, and two cars approach at the same time, the car to the right has the right of way.
- If there is a power outage at a stoplight, there will either be a police presence immediately or look for the traffic signs on the polls.
- Often times, traffic lights are turned off during peak hours (anecdotally, side streets around 9 p.m. and main thoroughfares at 10 p.m. or 11 p.m. In this case, use the right of way rules above.
- EMERGENCY VEHICLES
• On a one lane street, pull over to the right and stop.
• On an Autobahn or more than one lane street, pull over to the nearest shoulder, forming a Rettungsgasse. (See the illustration below.”
- The “O to O” rule: from Oktober to Easter (Oster) you should have winter tires on your car. While you won’t be fined for not having them, the penalties for getting into an accident will increase. Luckily, there are lots of tire changing services available at these times of year since everyone makes the change. All-season tires should be checked with a mechanic to determine if they will meet German standards.