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Driving in Germany: laws, advice and speed limits on the motorway

Driving in Germany is generally a pleasure. After all, the car was invented there and thanks to strict rules for getting behind the wheel, the standard of driving is generally high. This means that it is one of the few places in the world that has roads without speed limits: the famous Autobahn.

Driving in another country can seem daunting if it’s your first time, especially since, like the rest of mainland Europe, you drive on the right side of the road in Germany. However, if you prepare for it, you can get used to it very quickly and start enjoying the country’s beautiful mountain roads and time-saving highways.

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In this article, we’ll look at everything you need to know about driving in Germany, including what to bring with you, driving rules, and tips for using the motorway’s high-speed routes.

Remember that if you are bringing your own car to Germany, you will most likely drive through France to get there, so be sure to read our guide before you go.

License rules for driving in Germany

You must be at least 18 years old to drive in Germany and hold a full driving licence. Since Germany accepts all EU driving licenses as valid, you do not need to obtain an international driving license – just bring your photo driving license.

You do not need to have an insurance green card on you, but you must have valid car insurance to drive in Germany. Check that your insurer covers you when driving abroad and bring a copy of your certificate of insurance with you. You can bring your car to Germany for up to six months.

If you are renting a car you may also need a second piece of ID, but as you are probably from the UK you will still have your passport. The rules vary depending on the rental company you book with, so check before you travel.

Car stickers for driving in Germany

Since September 2021, the old GB stickers and number plates are no longer valid, so you must obtain a new country ID to drive in Germany. This is a white sticker with the letters UK that you display on your car, usually next to the rear number plate.

Alternatively, you can get a number plate with British letters and a Union flag for your car if you prefer.

If your car has halogen headlights, you will also need to install headlight deflectors so that your car does not dazzle drivers at night. Since we drive on the left, UK car headlights point slightly to the left to avoid this at home. A set of stickers – readily available online, at auto shops and even at the ferry port – can be fitted to your headlights to keep your car safe and legal.

Some cars, especially newer ones, have headlights that can be adjusted for right-hand drive, so you may not have to. Sometimes this is done through the car’s settings on the infotainment system and sometimes there’s a switch on the lights – check your owner’s manual to find out.

What to bring with you to drive in Germany

There are quite a few items you will need to bring with you to drive in Germany, although it is not difficult to prepare yourself. The documents you need to bring with you are: your driver’s license with photo, your passport, a car insurance certificate and the V5C document (or logbook) for your car.

As in many European countries, there are also a handful of safety items that you should take with you in the car. These are:

  • High visibility jackets (reflective)
  • A warning triangle
  • A first aid kit (for cars registered in Germany)
  • Winter tires (must be fitted between October and April, but check local regulations)

In summer, in a UK registered car, you only need to bring reflective jackets and a warning triangle, which is easy to comply with. You can buy complete kits for driving in Europe at the ferry port or in most car shops.

Driving on the Autobahn in Germany

Since driving in Germany is much like driving in any other right-hand drive country, the most common questions are about using the country’s unique motorway network. These are famous for having no speed limit, but this is only partly true.

The speed limit on the motorway is actually 120 km/h on many sections, as clearly indicated by signs and overhead gantries. If you see the black and white sign indicating a marked section, the official recommended speed is 130 km/h – but many drivers will drive much faster than this, as there is no speed limit.

These sections of road can be intimidating for some drivers and exciting for others, but everyone should drive with particular caution on the marked sections. Stay in the inside lane – in Germany it’s on the right – at all times, only move into the left lane to overtake after checking your mirrors. Double check before you travel, as cars can approach much faster than you are used to in other countries.

Suppose any car that appears in your mirrors could be going over 100 mph – or even 150 mph. Some will flash their headlights to signal that they are going fast and they would like you to move over to let them pass.

If you’re a more confident driver and want to drive faster than the law allows in the UK, you also need to take a lot more care when driving. Before you go, make sure your car has no issues – MoT notices for things like tires and suspension would say it could be dangerous to drive over the UK speed limit.

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If you are sure that your car is safe and you don’t notice any vibrations or oscillations when you increase your speed, you can gradually drive faster. If there is nothing in the inside lane, use it as you normally would and move onto the outside lane early enough to pass. Look much farther down the road – if you see a truck you know you’ll have to pass it and keep an eye on how fast you’re approaching anything in front of you.

You really need to focus on looking as far away as possible to drive safely at high speeds, but fortunately highways are designed to allow excellent visibility. German drivers are also considerate and generally won’t stay in the outside lane longer than necessary. It goes without saying that in bad weather and when you can’t see very far ahead, reduce your speed accordingly. It may be legal to drive fast in a storm on the highway, but it’s not safe.

There are no tolls for the Autobahn network, and there are frequent service areas and rest areas where you can take a break or refuel your car.

Driving on other roads in Germany

Driving in Germany is very pleasant and most of the rules are the same as in the UK – although of course you are driving on the other side of the road so things like roundabouts and junctions are reflected. Give way to traffic coming from your left at a roundabout and look both ways at intersections as you always would.

You must wear your seatbelt and of course all normal roads have speed limits, clearly marked with signs. Sometimes, if there are no signs, you have to use common sense. In built-up areas the limit is 50 km/h (31 mph) and on country roads it is 100 km/h (62 mph).

You are not allowed to use speed camera detectors in Germany, so deactivate this function of your GPS if it is equipped with one. Speeding fines depend on how much you’ve exceeded the limit. On-the-spot fines can be issued by the police if you break traffic laws.

Parking is not allowed near traffic lights and bus stops, nor should you block access or stop in the cycle path. You also cannot park facing oncoming traffic or anywhere with a no parking sign.

Some cities and urban areas have environmental rules like our low emission zones in the UK. Umweltzone rules mean you need a sticker with your car’s emissions displayed, so most UK drivers won’t be able to drive in these zones even if their car meets the requirements. Check that your rental car has an environmental sticker before driving to an Umweltzone.

Children over the age of three must be in the back seats of your car, while anyone under 12 and less than 150cm tall must be in a child seat. Follow UK child car seat laws and you’ll be fine here.

The breath alcohol limit in Germany is 50 mg per 100 millilitres, which is lower than the UK’s 80 mg. It’s always best to avoid drinking altogether if you’re driving. There is a zero tolerance policy for those under 21 – the limit is 0 in this case.

If the worst should happen and there is an emergency, the number to call is 112.

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