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Driving in Germany – what are the rules?

Planning on driving to Germany this summer? Here’s what to check – for you and your car – before you set off.

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It’s a big country with a fantastic motorway (Autobahn) network, spectacular scenery and beautiful towns and cities. No wonder Germany is such a popular driving destination for the British.

If you like driving it’s one of the better choices for a motoring holiday. Wide open roads, lots of space and fast Autobahns make getting behind the wheel and heading off for a vacation, a pleasure for solo drivers, couples and families.

But you’ll need some careful planning if you do intend to drive there. The UK has a lot in common with its German friends but driving in their country is a completely different experience from doing so in Britain. And not least because they drive on a different side of the road from the British.

It’s so much more than that and planning a driving holiday, or even taking your car to Germany on business, requires careful planning and a good understanding of what you can and can’t do while using German roads.

Here The Car Expert looks at the most important elements to consider when planning to take a car to Germany, and we’ve included a handy checklist. As each journey is unique, always check that you have everything covered for your particular visit.

Basic rules for driving in Germany

You must be 18 years or over to drive in Germany and you should hold a full UK driving licence. Just the licence card will do, as the paper counterpart is no longer a requirement. Nor is an international driving permit – some countries expect you to have this validation, but Germany is not one of them.

You’ll need to prove that you have insurance cover (but you don’t need a European ‘green card’) and you must carry with you documents that show the identity of the car, such as a V5 registration document or ‘logbook’. 

Always carry your personal ID or passport with you everywhere, and if your car is more than three years old and has an MOT certificate, take that too. Ensure that your car is fully taxed before travelling.

The vehicle’s ‘home country’ must be shown on it. You can buy small ‘UK’ stickers to fix to your front and rear number plates and these are accepted. But if you don’t want to do that, use a ‘UK’ sticker for the back of your car. The ‘GB’ badge is no longer allowed and the same goes for country badges incorporating the English, Scottish or Welsh flags.

Speed limits

As with most countries in the world, Germany uses the metric system for speed and distance. That means distances on road signs are shown in kilometres rather than miles, and speed limits are shown in km/h (kilometres per hour) rather than mph (miles per hour).

It’s often thought that Germany has no speed limits on the Autobahn, but that’s not completely true. There are some de-restricted areas of Autobahn but most stretches have a 130 km/h limit. A-roads outside built-up areas have a 100km/h limit while built-up areas are enforced with a 50km/h limit.

You’re not allowed to have speed camera locator devices in your car, which includes satnav units with the camera detection built-in. If you have one, make sure it is de-activated before you drive on the roads.

Blood alcohol limit

Obviously, we don’t condone any kind of drinking before you get behind the wheel, but it’s important to know what the legal limit is.

There are tougher drink drive limits in Germany than in England and Wales. The maximum level of alcohol in the blood (Blood Alcohol Content) is 0.5 grams per litre (0.05%) for most drivers, although the level is strictly zero (0.0 g/l or 0.0% if you’re not zure what ‘zero’ means…) for ‘new drivers’ with less than two years’ experience.

By comparison, it’s 0.8 g/l in England and Wales (0.5 in Scotland). Police can carry out spot checks with a breathalyser if they suspect you might have been drinking.

Parking regulations

You can’t just pull up and park where you like in Germany and there are rules governing where and how you can leave your car unattended.

Don’t park if you see a ‘parking prohibited sign’ or within five metres of junctions or pedestrian crossings, 10 metres from traffic lights and 15 metres from a bus stop. You should be careful not to leave your car on a narrow road or where visibility is hampered to other drivers.

Make sure you’re not on a taxi rank, stopped facing on-coming traffic or in front of properties or, where narrow, opposite their entrance. If you’re parked at night your car should be illuminated front and rear although this does not apply if the road is well-lit by street lamps or you’re in an authorised parking space.

Break one of these rules and you might find your car has been towed away with a fine of several hundred Euros to have it released. German authorities don’t use wheel clamps.

What to carry in the car

There are several items that the authorities in Germany will expect you to have in your car while motoring and you risk penalties if you can’t show them. These include a warning triangle for breakdowns and a reflective jacket or bib for you and every passenger. 

Headlamps must be set so that they don’t dazzle oncoming traffic. This can be adjusted manually in some cars while, for others, you can fit headlamp beam deflectors. It’s not mandatory to carry spare lightbulbs but it’s still a good idea. The same goes for a first aid kit – only German registered cars must carry these, not visitors. 

Specialist suppliers, such as motoring organisations, sell ‘European driving kits’ for around £25, which should contain everything required. 

Seatbelt rules

Seatbelt laws are the same as in the UK: if your car has them, they must be worn. It’s the driver’s responsibility to make sure everyone is buckled up. Children over three years must sit on the back seat of the car. Under-3s are not allowed to travel if they are not restrained in a child seat. Passengers under 12 years must be in a child seat or restraint that conforms to agreed European safety standards. 

Driving

Keep to the right hand lane as much as possible but if you are overtaking, do so on the left. If traffic is moving slowly or queueing, you can pass on the right side. Trams are more common in Germany than the UK. If you want to pass one, do it on the right if it’s moving. If it has stopped you can overtake on the left but always be aware of, and give priority to, passengers getting on or off. Don’t attempt to overtake a school bus if it has stopped with warning lights showing. 

Traffic signals follow the same pattern as in the UK, including the red and yellow phase just before the green for ‘go’. If a green ‘turn right’ arrow shows with the red light you may turn right but you must give way to pedestrians and cyclists.

You may wear headphones while driving as long as the sound doesn’t block out everything else.

If you are towing a caravan ensure that your car and the ‘van don’t exceed 18.75 metres in length and 2.55 metres in width. You must have two rear-view mirrors that are wider than the caravan but should be foldable.

Emergency number

Rather like the UK’s 999 number, in Europe you can dial 112 and make contact with emergency services such as fire, ambulance or police, 24 hours a day. They will speak English as well as a number of other European languages.

Checklist for driving in Germany

Must haves:

  • Driving licence
  • Passport
  • Vehicle insurance
  • MOT certificate
  • V5 or vehicle ID
  • UK sticker or number plate markings
  • Warning triangle
  • Headlamp beam deflectors
  • Hi-viz jackets

Options:

  • First aid kit
  • Spare bulb kit
  • Screen wash
  • Bottled water
  • Map or satnav
  • Phone power bank
  • Fire extinguisher
  • Torch
  • Fuel can

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Tom Johnston
Tom Johnstonhttp://johnstonmedia.com/
Tom Johnston was the first-ever reporter on national motoring magazine Auto Express. He went on to become that magazine’s News Editor and Assistant Editor, and has also been Motoring Correspondent for the Daily Star and contributor to the Daily and Sunday Express. Today, as a freelance writer, content creator and copy editor, Tom works with exciting and interesting websites and magazines on varied projects.