The Ultimate Guide to driving in Germany

Facts about German roads

Generally the german road system is quite well engineered but compared to other countries such as the U.S. for example the streets are quite more narrow.

An Autobahn lane which is the German motorway lane is about the same width as the US Highways (3.75 metres). These are marked with A numbers such as A2, A4, A10 etc. According to the Arbeitsgemeinschaft Autobahngeschichte (Working Group Motorway History) the A7 is the longest motorway with a length of 960 km all the way through Germany starting at the Danish and ending at the Austrian border. Lanes on lower classified roads such as federal roads (Bundesstraße) have at least a width of 3,5 metres. These federal roads are marked with B numbers such as B1, B96. The longest and oldest federal road is the B2 which is about 845 kilometres long. If you plan a roadtrip across the country you could take and stay on the B2. It crosses Germany in a north-south direction from the German-Polish border to the German-Austrian border.

What roads in Germany don´t have a speed limit?

A speed limit applies in almost all countries in Europe. Germany is still the only country without. Much of Germany’s motorways have no speed limit BUT many parts of the Autobahns have set limits up to 130 km/h (about 80 mph) based on accident experience, traffic jams and other factors such as noise pollution, nature reserve etc.
All proposals for a general speed limit of 120km/h is being discussed quite often but so far still rejected by the German government. According to a survey from 2019 about 75% of Germans are in favour of a speed limit on motorways.

Most common causes for car accidents in Germany

According to the German Federal Statistical Office (Destatis) most causes of accidents involving personal injuries fall into the following 4 main categories:

Incorrect driving behaviour
This can be for example the vehicle driver’s lack of attention or driving under the influence of alcohol, excessive (inappropriate) speed, insufficient distance, errors when turning or turning round, failure to give way or other misconduct such as errors when overtaking or incorrect use of the road.

General causes of accidents
These include difficult road conditions and weather conditions such as rain, snow or black ice, but also obstacles or animals on the road such as game passes.

Vehicle-related causes
Vehicle-related causes are technical defects in the vehicle, often maintenance deficiencies, e.g. in the lighting, brakes or tyres. The deficiency in the vehicle then leads to a dangerous and accident-prone situation.

Misbehaviour of pedestrians
The category “misbehaviour of pedestrians” includes all accidents resulting from incorrect actions of road users who are on foot. In most cases, pedestrians are involved when crossing the carriageway, either by simply stepping onto the road without paying attention to the traffic, or, for example, by crossing the road at red pedestrian lights.

In 2019, the main cause of accidents was the misconduct of drivers with 88%, followed by general causes like road or weather conditions and other obstacles with 8%. Only in 3% of all causes was it a case of incorrect behaviour of pedestrians and a negligible part of 1% was a vehicle-related cause. Driving misconduct has been the leading cause of accidents for several years.

causes of accidents in germany
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Driving in Germany – Basic rules you need to know:

In order to drive accordingly on german roads here some general regulations you need to know.

General driving regulations

  • All vehicles drive on the right side of the road
  • People of 17 years of age are allowed to drive.
  • Drivers in Germany are always required to carry their driver’s licence when operating a vehicle. In case you drive with a foreign license read our guide: driver’s licences in Germany

Most important driving rules

From the multitude of traffic rules – here are the most important ones that everyone who takes part in the German road traffic should know:
  • Car insurance: it is mandatory to have at least a third party insurance for the vehicle. It is the least insurance requirement.
  • Buckle up! Wearing seatbelts (Sicherheitsgurte) is compulsory in the front seats of cars and, if they are fitted, in the back.
  • Child safety: Children under 12 or less than 1.5m body height (whichever they reach first applies) may not travel in the front seat unless they are seated in a child safety seat. Children under three are not allowed to sit in the front seats.
  • Speed: The maximum speed limit for all motor vehicles in built-up areas is 50 kilometres per hour. Outside built-up areas, cars must be capable of 100 kilometres per hour. A speed limit does not generally apply on motorways.
  • Distance: The legislation says the distance should be the length of the distance travelled in one second in urban areas, and two seconds in rural areas. Half the speedometer value can also serve as a guide.
  • Overtaking: In Germany overtaking is done on the left. Overtaking is not permitted in unclear traffic conditions or where it is prohibited by traffic signs.
  • Right of way: On roads of equal rank the rule is: right before left. Otherwise, signs indicate roads with right of way.
  • Turn off: When exiting the motorway you have to indicate in an appropriate time. If you want to turn left, you must let oncoming vehicles pass first. 

Special driving rules

  • Mobile phone ban: The driver must use a hands-free phone in a moving car. Only in traffic jams or when the vehicle is stationary in front of railway barriers is it permitted to use a mobile phone. However, this does not apply in stop-and-go traffic or at red lights.
  • Blood alcohol limit: It was set at 0.5 per mil blood alcohol.
  • Green arrow: This road sign allows careful right turns only from the right lane. Nevertheless, it is necessary to stop at the stop line, even if no pedestrians or oncoming traffic can be seen.
  • Zipper method (Reißverschlussverfahren): In the case a lane becomes narrow, it is mandatory that drivers must drive up and then get in lane. This mostly happens on the Autobahn. Here an explanation from the ADAC on how it works

More than 500 road signs in Germany

On german streets you´ll see currently about 500 different road signs. 20 million of them are installed nationwide. A not inconsiderable proportion of all traffic offences on German roads happen because many people do not recognize or misinterpret traffic signs. 

This Ultimate Guide explains the30 most confusing German road signs.

The Ultimate German Road Sign Guide

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We hope this guide helped you to become a well trained driver on german roads.

One last Thing to know

Before you start driving make sure to always have a parking disk in your car. Timed parking is also very common in Germany. In case of parking your car in areas with the following sign:
You need to place the parking disk on the dashboard of your car and set on your arrival time and may park 1-2hrs for free.