Hallo! Wie geht’s? Und wilkommen to the wonderful, efficient and meticulously prepared Deutschland, please take off your shoes and neaten up your hair.
So you’ve decided on a German road trip, you absolute renegade. Most people head straight to France or Italy, but you. We like you, you’re a little bit different. You wander from the crowd, and this time you’ve strayed into an absolute gem of a country.
Firstly, unlike most other European countries, the minimum age to drive in Germany is 18, and of course they drive on the right, (and if you didn’t know that going then you probably didn’t make it there). Most people would describe the German driving style as one of the easiest to adhere to in the world. Generally, you give way from the left, road signs are very clearly marked, and speed limits are fairly easy to follow.
The three major speed limits you’ll definitely need to know are:
The Autobahn is, of course, not speed limited. If you ever need to check that you’re on one, a circular white sign with five diagonal black lines is the thing to look out for. You are officially allowed to drive as fast as you feel safe. It is important to be aware though, that cars can appear suddenly behind you, so must stay alert when overtaking.
If you happen to be towing a caravan or trailer you have to display a 100 km/h sticker at all times, so no speeding for you, I’m afraid.
At crossroads and junctions, give way to traffic coming from the right. Vehicles turning left at an intersection must give way to all oncoming vehicles, and most importantly of all; traffic in a roundabout has right of way, except when signs indicate otherwise. When you enter a roundabout, you don’t need to indicate, but it is vital that you do when leaving.
Clearly the most fun part of driving through Germany, and the one thing that attracts more petrol heads than culture vultures, is the autobahn. But this isn’t just a lawless slab of tarmac in the middle of nowhere. There are rules at play here, so let’s take a look.
The first thing to realise is that only around 1 in 8 autobahns have no speed limit suggestion. Most of them are limited to 130km/h they’re also mostly only two lanes, and overtaking is only allowed in the left-hand lane. So the most dangerous aspect of the autobahn is the vast differences in speed that vehicles travel at. Some trucks may be going at 100km/h in the right lane, but a sports car may be zipping along at 180km/h in the left. Concentration is key if you’re overtaking regularly.
If you do decide to go for it and sit in the left lane and really open your car up, then make sure you keep a firm eye on vehicles in the right-hand lane, especially HGVs. These vehicles all have large blind spots and could pull out all of a sudden so do be careful and allow as much time as possible to make manoeuvres.
The worst thing about the autobahn is leaving it. When you suddenly started driving at 50km/h again it will feel unbelievably slow, but resist the urge to accelerate, keep an eye on your speedometer and you’ll be fine.
As you’d imagine, German road signs are a symphony of well deigned architecture and rigorous accuracy; all you need to do if remember a few simple rules and they’ll be easy to read.
Firstly, the signs are usually black writing on white background (these are what are known as standardised signs), the exceptions are Autobahns which, luckily, are set out very similarly to UK motorway signs; they have white writing on blue backgrounds.
German main roads that are not classed as Autobahns are displayed on yellow backgrounds.
It’s worth taking a comprehensive guide to German road signs if you’re particularly worried about them.
There are a few things that every driver in Germany is legally required to have with them. It’s compulsory to carry a warning triangle and to have headlight deflectors. It is optional but highly recommended that you have a reflective jacket and first aid kit with you too, so best to make sure you pack those as well.
Preparing for as many eventualities as you can will pay dividends in the end, if you do ever come across and issue along the way.
German police can immediately collect fines up to the cost of €35 due to any traffic law violations. They are also empowered to collect ‘security deposits’ that exceed €35 for more serious circumstances. It’s probably a good idea to not no anything to warrant having the police stop you, but that’s just me talking...well typing.
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