Driving in Germany
U.S. Citizen Services in Germany
- Registration of your car
The title (Fahrzeugschein) must always accompany the driver in the car; however you should not leave the registration in your unattended automobile.
All cars receiving German plates must be registered and pass the Technical Inspection (TÜV) within 90 days of the car's arrival in Germany.
"D" decal Deutschland. You must display the "D" decal on the rear of your car when traveling outside Germany.
German law requires that all automobiles be equipped with:
- a triangle caution sign
- a first aid kit (DIN number 13164). First aid kits are available at the ADAC or German service stations.
- Car Inspection (TÜV)
German law requires that all automobiles be inspected once every two years by the Technical Inspection Association (TÜV). Fees apply.
- Bi-annual inspection
- Reinspection after failed inspection
- Penalties for overdue inspection
Vehicle inspection is certified by an inspection decal affixed to the rear license plate. The number in the small inner circle indicates the year that the car is next due for inspection (e.g. 04) The outer circle shows the number of the month that vehicle is due for inspection (e.g. 10). This example would then indicate that the vehicle is due for TÜV in October (10) , 2004 (04).
If your automobile is due for an inspection, you should have the dealer, a local service station or an auto repair shop check your car and repair any defects prior to the TÜV inspection.
- Vehicle Exhaust Emission Test (ASU)
Automobiles, except those with diesel engines, with a current registration must pass an exhaust emissions test (ASU) every year during the month of the TÜV inspection whether or not the TUV is due in that year. American style cars with an American style CAT only need go in every two years.
The emissions test is certified by a hexagonal decal, similar to the TÜV decal, but mounted on the front license plate. The decal will reflect the year the ASU is due (e.g. 04).
The ASU is not considered part of the TÜV and must be specifically requested. The ASU can be carried out by any TÜV station or an authorized service garage. Fees apply.
- ASU Test, exclusive of any necessary repairs
- Reinspection after failed test
- Penalties for overdue tests
Once the ASU is passed, a certificate will be issued which must be carried at all times with your German car registration.
German law requires that all registered automobiles carry third-party liability insurance.
Note: Every accident must be reported, without exception, immediately to the insurance company.
There are approximately 130 providers of automobile insurance operating in Germany. The willingness among these firms to reduce premiums for safe driving records compiled in the U.S. varies considerably. Firms in Germany are not obliged to reduce premiums for safe driving histories compiled outside Germany, though many in fact will do so. In applying for car insurance, the U.S. Embassy encourages consumers to comparison-shop among a variety of insurers.
- Driving in Germany
Driving in Germany can be both an exhilarating and frustrating experience. In a country renowned for its high performance cars, high speed Autobahns, and frustrated drivers, Germany hosts more traffic volume than any nation in Europe and, as a result, suffers the Continent's highest injury-accident rate. Many German traffic regulations differ a great deal from those observed in the United States. It is essential for safety sake to know this rules and to be familiar with the international road signs. Some of the most important regulations and driving tips are discussed below. You can also see more extensive information about German traffic regulations and traffic signs. Overview of fines for traffic offenses by German automobile Club (ADAC)
- Speed Limits
Speed limits are 50 km per hour in cities and towns and 100 km on the highway unless otherwise marked; there is no speed limit on the Autobahn, except where marked (but a top speed of 130 km is recommended by the German authorities).
To convert kilometers to miles; drop the 0 and multiply by 6 , e.g. 40 km equals 4x6 or roughly 24 miles.
- Autobahn Driving
Before pulling into the left lane to pass, check the rear view mirror very carefully as far back as you can see. Cars traveling at 160-180 km per hour approach suddenly, so when passing, do so quickly and then quickly return to the right lane. Some impatient drivers flash their headlights, use their blinker, and tailgate to pressure slower cars ahead into moving out of the way. These practices have been outlawed recently, and it is best to ignore this behavior if it is directed at you. (Within the city a driver may flash his lights at you as a signal that you may turn into the street or turn left across his lane of traffic, but do so with caution.)
In case of a breakdown, look for arrows at the top of the white posts lining the road. They'll lead you to the nearest emergency call box, located every 1 1/2 to 3 km along the Autobahns. Merely lift the handle and an operator will answer. Most of the operators speak English or will connect you with someone who can. A booklet published by the German Autobahn Authority which includes maps of Germany, rest areas and locations of autobahn service stations is available from them.
- Use of Seat Belts and Airbags
The use of seat belts is mandatory both in the front and back seats. If your seat belts are not fastened and you are stopped, you can be fined EUR 30, in case of an accident, you run the danger of invalidating your insurance. Children under the age of 12 are not permitted to ride in the front seat of the car and using a children's safety seat is mandatory for each child in the car. This could also cost you a fine of EUR 30.
- Drinking and Driving
German law concerning what constitutes driving a vehicle while under the influence of alcohol is different than American law. It must be understood, however, that there are many variables which alter the effects of alcohol upon a person, i.e., weight of the person, type of alcoholic beverage consumed, etc. It is therefore difficult to list all conditions and aspects of what constitutes drunken driving.
The important thing is NOT TO DRINK AND DRIVE.
Under German law it is illegal to operate a vehicle if the blood level is 0.5 per mill or higher. The law imposes a penalty and the withdrawal of the drivers license for specified periods of time depending upon the gravity of each violation.
- Right of Way
Vehicles coming from the right have the right of way unless signs are posted otherwise. Pedestrians have the right of way as soon as they step into the crosswalk. Beware of cyclists on the bike paths, particularly when you are making a right turn.
Parking is generally permitted along the streets, unless there is a sign to the contrary. Signs will show whether parking or standing is allowed or not, and whether you must park with two or four wheels on the sidewalk, or use a parkscheibe. A Parkscheibe is a double cardboard disc, available at gas stations, which you must use in marked areas of limited but un-metered parking. The disc is set to indicate at what time you parked in a space and is displayed under your windshield. Failing to do so when required means a EUR 5.00 fine.
A particular hazard of driving in Europe in the winter time is the danger of "black ice" or Glatteis. The best way to recognize black ice is by surface reflection, but that dull patch just ahead might be ice also. Be especially wary in the early morning or late evening and near or on bridges. If you see the patch, take your foot off the gas quickly. Once on an icy section, do not accelerate, brake, gear down or make any sudden change in direction. Keep well behind other cars. If starting to lose control, steer toward the edge of the road where residues of sand and salt might help.
- Snow Chains
Snow chains can be rented from gas stations midway through your journey and then dropped off at another station further down the road. Sometimes membership in the German automobile club ADAC is necessary for this service, but not always. The cost is low and is based on km's traveled. Stop as soon as you think you may need the chains, because supplies are limited at each station.
When you have or witness an accident:
- Stop immediately.
- Take steps to provide for traffic safety.
- Warn other traffic by setting up your warning triangle
- switch on emergency flash lights
- in case of minor damage, move your vehicle to the side of the road without delay.
- Assist the injured. Call or have someone call the police.
- Cooperate with the police, show them and those involved in the accident your identification card (Ausweis), automobile registration (Fahrzeugschein), drivers license (Führerschein) and insurance card.
DO NOT LEAVE THE SCENE FOR ANY OTHER REASON.
Do NOT admit any guilt. You may forfeit your insurance coverage. Do NOT sign anything unless you know exactly what you are signing. Do NOT leave the scene until you are sure you have all the facts on record needed to report the accident to your insurance company and file a claim.
- Moving Violations
When you see a police officer waving at you with a red light, or if a police car pulls you over:
- Stop immediately at the right side of the road.
- Cooperate with the police
- show your identification card
- car registration
- driver’s license
- insurance card.
- Answer only those questions that you understand. Do not leave until released by the officer.
- Other Cautions
Germans are very sensitive to any damage to their cars, so be sure to avoid bumping them, particularly with the bumper of an American car. American car bumpers are built to withstand small bumps, but the same cannot be said of many German-made car bumpers. Take particular care moving out of your parking space, lest you inadvertently do damage, however slight, to the German car ahead or behind you.
Remember that causing any damage whatsoever to another vehicle is considered an accident and you should not leave the scene until the owner or a policeman has come. Leaving a note on the windshield of the damaged car with your name and phone number is not an accepted practice here. If you should leave the scene, you might be charged with a "hit and run".
- Loss of Vehicle Documents
Although initial German documents are issued free of charge, replacement documents are subject to the following fees:
- Title (Fahrzeugbrief) - EUR 23.60
- Registration (Fahrzeugschein) - EUR 10.70
- International Vehicle Reg. - EUR 10.20 (only issued with export plates)
- German Drivers License - EUR 35.00
- International Drivers License - EUR 13.00