A Beginner’s Guide to Driving on Germany’s Autobahn

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 the road rules.

Autobahn - flickr. barmala

1. 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.

autobahn - flickr: quapan

2. 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.

autobahn - flickr: katerha

3. 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 suggested to bring along your own food and beverages for the trip. Shopping for food to bring along on a trip is always a good idea. Stops along the autobahn are extremely expensive and low quality.

It is 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.

autobahn - flickr: Floris M. Oosterveld

4. No Tailgating.

Driving fast also means that there is more danger involved. If you are a speed demon type, then it is important to keep more distance than usual between the car in front of you. 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 frequently are on an overpass or a normally marked car, driving behind you.

5. Size Matters.

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.

autobahn - flickr: phip_s

6. 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 to keep with you in the car. Experienced drivers in Germany are known for keeping that extra roll handy just for Autobahn travel.

7. 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.

autobahn - flickr: f_mafra

8. 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!

9. 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. That is 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.

autobahn - flickr: what_marty_sees

10. Hands Off.

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 very illegal and your insurance carrier could void your policy if you are charged with texting or talking while behind the well. If you are involved in an accident, the Autobahn police will even dig into your phone records to see if dialing-while-driving was the cause.