Driving in Germany en route to Greece

Are you really going by car down to Crete? How about all that traffic on the German Autobahn or the Italian Autostrada not to mention driving through all the tunnels in Austria?

The questions and the myths are too many to answer but here are my personal experiences and tips and also some important rules. Remember that the traffic culture is different from one country to the other as are the traffic rules.

Before you leave home make sure that your car is in perfect condition (don’t forget the tires and the spare-wheel) and that your insurance is in order and you know how it works abroad in case of any kind of emergency.

See to that your car has a national symbol and that you bring a first aid kit.

driving in germany

Driving in Germany

  • It is recommended, but not (yet) obligatory to have your car lights switched on. The police may stop drivers without lights on and ask them to switch them on.
  • Heavv traffic, like lorries and trailers, have so far not been allowed to drive on Sundays between 07.00 – 20.00 o´clock.
  • In 2004 from the 3 rd July until the end of August this ban applies also on Saturdays. This is because of the very intensive traffic during the vacation period in Europe
  • Yes there are many lanes, yes the speed is high, yes the traffic is heavy , do you have to be afraid of the Autobahn? No not really.
  • Don’t start driving 180-200 km/hour immediately, take it easy in the beginning and get used to speed and rhythm and you will find that the Autobahn offers you a funny and exciting driving experience.

Important traffic regulations to remember when driving on the Autobahn:

  • Entering and exiting the Autobahn is permitted only at interchanges.
  • When you are entering the autobahn, you are supposed to accelerate hard while still on the sidestrip. Be careful though, cars already on the autobahn have right of way.
  • When you are leaving autobahn, you are supposed to decelerate after you have switched onto the sidestrip .
  • Around the big cities like Berlin and München, just to mention a few, the interchanges are many and very big and with a lot of traffic.
  • It is illegal to run out of petrol.
  • The fines are high and should be paid on the spot. In other words it is very clever not to take a chance and suddenly run out of petrol. You will find signs along the autobahn telling you the distance to the next petrol station.
  • You may not overtake another vehicle on the right side.
  • The idea is to drive in the right lane except when it is time to overtake slower cars. Then you use the left lane and after you have passed, you return to the right lane again. The discipline is not always as good as it ought to be.
  • It is not allowed to stop, park, making U-turns and of course not going reverse.
  • When there is an accident, you of course have to make way for the emergency vehicles.
  • This is made as all traffic in the left lane keep far out left and the right lane traffic keep far out right which will create a lane for the emergency vehicles in the middle.
  • Warning triangle
    If you have an accident or problem with your car, move it to the side of the road without delay and place a warning triangle 200 meters away from the car. You have to report to the authorities. This is quite easy by using the nearest emergency phone located almost every 2 -3 km along the Autobahn. Just lift the phone handle and an operator will answer you.

When driving on the Autobahn

  • There are no tolls on the Autobahn.
  • I have been driving on weekdays as well as on weekends and I prefer the weekdays. Yes of course you have all the trailers, but they know how to drive, except when they are doing the Elefantrenn *, where they are going and so on.
    * Elefantrenn is when a trailer (often the last one in a row) has decided to overtake the others and they are not slowing down to let him pass. This can last for minutes and kilometre after kilometre. It is rather stupid actually
  • Usually it´s easy to keep a steady and high speed (if you like high speed).
  • On weekends however you have to deal with all the local “tourists” out driving, eating, looking, exploring, going to or from their summerhouses and so forth and believe me some of them are not in a hurry and they are not turning back into the right lane.
  • If you would like to stop for some food during weekends, the restaurants along Autobahn ( Rasthof or Raststätte) are all crowded and my advice is; leave Autobahn and in the range of 5 km I am sure you will find a nice “Gasthaus” with better and warm food.
  • The traffic is sometimes very heavy and also very fast especially around the big cities. Many cars are travelling at a speed of 160-200 km per hour and more and they approach from behind very fast. Check you mirrors, most important your left rear view mirror, very carefully as far back as possible before you change into the a left lane to overtake another car. Remember always to use your blinkers when changing lane.
    After you have overtaken, return to the right lane again. If you don´t, you will soon have one of those impatient drivers flash his headlights, use his blinker, and tailgate you in order to get you to move out of the way (this behaviour is now made illegal).
  • Because of high speed keep good distance to the vehicle in front of you. In high speed everthing happens very fast and the distance you need to stop will be rather long when driving maybe in 180km/h. If you are driving too close the police might stop and fine you.
  • There are of course accidents and cars with breakdowns on the Autobahn, which at once are creating long queues (stau in German). Construction work (the lanes are usually very narrow) and bad weather can often very quickly slow down the traffic pace to a stop. In order to warn approaching vehicles, it is an unwritten rule to switch on your hazard blinkers. This is very effective.
  • A good idea is to listen to the regional radio stations and their traffic updates (Verkehrsmeldungen or Verkehrsdienst). They warn about accidents, traffic jams and so on. This is an excellent service but of course you have to know a little of the German language.
  • Signs along the roads in Germany indicate the local radio stations.
  • To avoid the sometimes heavy traffic during day time it might be a good solution to drive at night time but be ware of Geister Fahrer (ghost driver). They are people who simply want to commit suicide. They enter Autobahn in the wrong direction and start to drive in full speed with no lights on in order to crash into an oncoming vehicle. This happens almost a couple of times every week.

Speed limits

  • Due to bad weather, heavy traffic, road conditions, construction areas and urban areas there are many different speed limits ranging from 60 to 120 km/h on the Autobahn.
  • Electronic signs (mostly overhead signs) are used to show the speed limits and you better follow them even though there are many drivers neglecting them.
  • The speed is controlled by radar, of course only where there is a speed limit. The fines are high and not funny at all.
  • Still though, much of the Autobahn has unlimited speed (note that 130 km per hour is a recommended maximum speed ) and offers a fine driving experience.
  • When you are leaving Autobahn for other roads the general speed limits in Germany are as shown below:
    In urban areas 50 km/h
    Outside urban areas 100 km/h.

More useful info

  • You are not allowed to use your cellular phone unless you have a handsfree equipment
  • Remember that children must be at least 12 years of age to sit in the front.
  • Seat belts front and rear are obligatory everywhere
  • If you are stopped with more than 0,05 % alcohol in your bloodstream you will get fines or even suspension of your driving license.
  • Petrol: Unleaded 95 is called Super
    Unleaded 98 is called Super Plus
    Diesel is still Diesel.
    Petrol in Germany is expensive. Our tank is almost empty when we leave the country and enter Austria, where the petrol is much cheaper.

Important phone number: Emergency 112

Useful links:

www.adac.d e (= ADAC (Allgemeiner Deutscher Automobil-Club)

Here you will find everything about the traffic and the roads in Germany and also many useful and important phone numbers. They have 24 hour service and even if you are not a member you will be helped. Their cars are seen all over.

www.verkehrsinfo.de info about the traffic all over Germany

www.autobahn-online.de an Autobahn site

AUTHOR: Lars Magnusson. Published on October 11, 2004

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