Driving in Germany

Driving in Germany can really be exciting: the Autobahn system is fantastic and the landscape is simply marvelous!

Although you might not need a car while living in Germany (we never owned one in Germany) because the public transport system is so efficient and convenient, many people choose to have one. After all, cars were invented in Germany (just think of BMW, Porsche and VW) and Germans do love them!

They love to ride fast too. Very fast! Most of the people we rode with as passengers, were doing around 180-220 km per hour on the Autobahn. That's pretty fast when you think that the average speed limit on North American highways is around 100 to 120 km per hour (50-60 mph).

You might also have heard that there is NO speed limit on the Autobahn and it is true. But, they recommend a speed limit of about 130 kph (80 mph). Higher than that and your car insurance might not want to pay if you have an accident, regardless of who is responsible.

And there are most certainly speed limits for city streets, about 50 kph (30 mph) in the city itself and about 100 kph (60 mph) everywhere else that is not part of the Autobahn and where it is not otherwise specified.

Gogomobil, Bad Wimpfen, Germany

Depending of how long you will be in Germany and if you are European citizen or not, you might need a German driving license.

If you are an European Union citizen, you do not have to worry about any of this: your driving license is valid in Germany and you won't have to get a German one.

But, if you are from outside the European Union, there are different rules depending of the length of your stay.

If you are to stay for 6 months or less, then your own license (from your country of origin) is fine.

If you are staying for up to one year, and not one single day more, then you can probably get an extension of another 6 months on your original driving license and won't need a German one.

But, if you are staying for more than a year, then you will need a German driving license.

Here it gets a bit complicated, depending of your country origin, and state of origin if you are an American citizen, you might have to do a writing test, or a driving test, or both, or none at all.

People coming from Canada and some states of the USA (ask your consulate or embassy to make sure if your state is included or not as these rules do have tendency to change with time) can simply change their driving license for a German one without any test whatsoever.

People coming from some other states of the USA (once again ask your consulate or embassy for detail) are required to take the writing test but NOT the driving one, and others still are required to take both.

There has been a change for Australian citizens: most of them don't need to pass an exam any longer! For more info please go to this German government web-site: fahrlehrerverband-bw.de

People coming South Africa and New Zealand will have to take both tests.

For all others, ask your embassy or go to the Driving license authority. All driving test are to be taken at a driving school, called Fahrschule in German, but you will not necessarily have to take the whole course from the beginning. Many of these Schulen (schools) offer special condensed course for experienced drivers; it costs a lot less (a couple of hundred euros instead of a thousand or more) and it's fast. If the school you are dealing with does not offer such a deal: change school!

Porsche, Passau, Germany

Once you have past the test(s), or simply to exchange your driving license for a German one, you have to go in person to the local police office that issues the licenses. But, before going there, make sure you have all these documents with you:

-your passport
-your residence(visa)permit,Aufenhaltserlaubnis
-2 passport size photos
-your driving license from your country of origin (if you had one)
-the tests results (driving or writing or both) delivered by the Fahrschule (if necessary)
-proof of a first aid course
-proof of good eyesight (certificate delivered by an optometrist or a Technische Überwachungsverein).

Once you have them all; go to the police office or an agency of the local police and ask to fill up the application for a Führerschein (driving license).

It might seem like a lot of documents, and courses, and certificates, but your German driving license will be good for life!

Germany Car Rental

Now that you have a driving license, you might want to rent a car in Germany or purchase a car. There are many car rental companies in Germany, so you should have no problem finding one. Little word of advice: gas is very expensive in Europe and most city streets are really narrow, so, you might want to hop to rent German car that is of compact size!

Deux Chevaux, Neckargmund, Germany

If you buy a car from a car dealer (second hand or new), the car dealer will usually deal with the registration. But if you buy it directly from a particular, you will have to go register it at the Autozulassungsstelle (motor vehicle registry office). To do so, you will need proof of ownership and insurance (it is always good to shop around as insurance fees can and do vary from firm to firm. Also your experience as a driver in your country of origin should be taken into consideration by this insurer when assessing your demand. If not, change company), and the Kraftfahrzeugbrief if the car was bought in Germany. This last document follows the car throughout its whole life and you should have it with you. Used cars should also pass through a safety inspection at the Technische Überwachungsverein.

Although new cars don't need to be inspected for a license, they must have one after three years and then every cars is inspected every 2 years. It is the law and you should respect it. Otherwise, you might loose the use of your car.

Before starting on a nice ride throughout Germany, you might want to familiarize yourself with a few basic rules and traffic signs.

One of the first mistakes non-German drivers make is at the intersection: you must learn that the car coming at your right has right of passage, even if you thought you were on a major road! The only time you have priority is if you see a sign that looks like a yellow diamond with a white border. It means that you are on a priority road.

Also, you are expected to stop to let pedestrians pass at the pedestrian crossing. Germans religiously do so and as they say, in Rome do as the Romans!

Another little difference with North America: a blinking yellow light at an intersection means: Stop, look around in all direction then proceed with caution.

All cars must have seat belt and people have to wear them, even in the back seat. There is a "on the spot" fine of 30 euros (this amount might change) for each person without a seat belt.

Kids under 12 are not permitted to ride in the front seat and must have a car seat approved by the German government.

Each car must also carry a reflective orange triangle and a first aid kit easily available, preferably in the trunk, for emergency situations. This safety triangle has to be placed behind the car some 200 meters if stopped on the Autobahn, and 100 meters on other roads. And leaving the scene of an accident is a crime punishable by a stiff fine or even imprisonment.

Parking outside Hirschhorn, Germany

Of course, finding parking lots in cities or outside of small villages where cars are not allowed, can be difficult and fines for parking in a no-parking zone are rather stiff. So, making use of public transport and of special parking lots for clients of public transport make a lot of sense.

No Cars Allowed, Heidelberg, Germany

One last traffic sign, related to the above, that you should really know about, is the red circle with a white center. It means NO vehicles allowed. Why don't they draw a car with a bright red X on it? Don't know. But here you have it: a red circle surrounding a white center. The same is true for a red circle with a car inside (no motor car allowed), or a bicycle inside (no bikes allowed) or a horse inside (not horses allowed) etc. Anything inside a red circle on a white background means: NOT allowed.

There are many other rules and signs to know and the easiest thing to do is probably to buy yourself a small book on Driving in Europe and in German and keep it in the car for further references.

For those of you who are used with the concept of an Auto Association, be it AAA or CAA, you will be pleased to know that such an organization also exists in Germany. It is called Allgemeine Deutsche Automobil-Club or ADAC. As with its American or Canadian equivalent, they can provide all kind of information, and better still, in English too! They also sell insurance and offer emergency road assistance. You can contact them at: ADAC Another club, similar to this one is the Automobil-Club von Deutschland (AvD). You can find more information about this club at: AvD Enjoy a safe ride!

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