Germany’s Autobahn is one of the only places in the world where you can drive as fast as you want. If you’re into cars, you’ve probably always dreamed about racing down these fast and flawless lanes. However, this vision can quickly turn into a nightmare if you do not follow rules of the road detailed below.
Mind the Limit
Believe it or not, there are actually speed limits on certain routes of the Autobahn. The most famous stretches of the Autobahn are marked by a round sign with 5 diagonal stripes. Stretches without this sign are monitored regularly and lined with hidden cameras. Around 1/3 of all roads on the Autobahn have low speed limits, and even slower speeds are required when driving through construction zones or junctions. Beware – most of these construction sites and junctions are heavily patrolled by police with radars and video cameras, fully prepared to dole out tickets.
Even the zones carrying the special sign for unrestricted speed limits have an advisory 130 kmph. If you are involved in an accident and found to be going faster than the advisory limit, you’ll be fined more.
Lastly, when exiting the Autobahn be aware of the changing speed zones. After driving very fast for some time, even 130 kph can feel very very slow.
Stay in the Right Lane
Pass on the left and drive on the right. It is expected that you drive in the right side lane and when you come upon slow-moving traffic, to use the left lane as a passing lane. If you pass a car from the left lane, then both drivers are liable to get a fine. Passing on the right lane is always forbidden.
Emergency lanes are also protected by rules. You are not allowed to stop unless it is an “actual” emergency. You may even get fined if you run out of fuel because this is viewed as preventable.
Expensive Fast Food
And you thought fast food was supposed to be cheap? On the Autobahn be prepared to spend lots of cash for a simple (and usually bland) meal. A regular bottle of soda costs €3 at most petrol stations or rest areas – more than three times the cost at a grocery store. It is highly recommended you take your own food and drinks for your trip. Stops along the autobahn are extremely expensive and low quality.
It is also important to take many breaks if you are behind the wheel. Driving at high speeds for long distances requires a lot of concentration. Take advantage of the extensive network of public rest areas to take a picnic lunch and refresh yourself.
Not surprisingly, cell phones are strictly prohibited on the Autobahn (unless you are using it hands-free) and any time you are driving in Germany. It is illegal to use a phone whilst driving and your insurance carrier could void your policy if you are charged with texting or talking while behind the wheel. If you are involved in an accident the Autobahn police will dig into your phone records to see if dialing-while-driving was the cause.
Driving fast also means that there is more danger involved. If you are a speed demon, then it’s important to keep more distance than usual between yourself the car in front. Slowing down from over 200 kph takes some time and can overheat your brakes.
On top of that, the police constantly patrol the highway for tailgaters, recording your every move. Their stake outs are frequently set up on overpasses or they’ll be in an unmarked car.
Giant trucks are a common sight on the Autobahn. Respect their size and beware that they must drive at lower speed limits, which can cause some annoying traffic jams. If you want to avoid trucks altogether there is a 24 hour ban from midnight each Saturday until Sunday evening.
Bring Toilet Paper
Whenever you drive, it is always required that you have your documents and necessary papers with you. License, proof of insurance, vehicle registration, and a form of identification are musts. Toilet paper should also be included on this list of important papers. Experienced drivers in Germany are known for keeping that extra roll handy just for Autobahn travel.
Use Your Hazard Lights
When you are breaking hard or approaching a traffic zone it is very important that you turn on your hazard lights. This alerts all the drivers behind you and notifies them that you will be breaking fast so that they can prepare and slow down in due time.
Flash Your Brights
In Germany, it is not considered rude to flash your headlights at a driver if you wish to pass. Do not be shocked if this happens. It simply means that you need to move to the right lane and stay put until you reach slow-moving traffic again. On the other hand, if you would like to pass a car, you now know the proper etiquette to let them know!
Go with the Flow
There is the saying, “When in Rome.” Well, if you have never driven in Germany before, it is usually best to do what the Romans do; follow the traffic and just do what the other drivers are doing. If everyone is driving at a slower speed or under the speed limit, then you should also do the same.
This post was updated on 14th November 2014.
Feature image edited, Flickr: Mario Spann