Driving on German streets is very similar to driving in the U.S. most of the time. However, some small differences can complicate the lives of American drivers in Germany. Jovica Savovski, training instructor with the Drivers Training and Testing Station, highlighted some of the differences between the two countries.
Having a reflective safety vest for every person in the car is a requirement in Germany, Savovski said. In case of an accident or a breakdown on the Autobahn, people should wear the vests and stay behind the guardrail while waiting for the Polizei or the towing truck.
In Germany, drivers have to yield to the right when no signs or traffic lights indicate otherwise, Savovski said. This applies most of the time to residential or industrial areas or 30 kph zones.
If the visibility in foggy weather conditions is less than 50 m, the maximum speed on German streets is 50 kph. Drivers should also make sure to keep a 50-meter distance to other cars. The formula is 50-50-50, Savovski said.
If the car has a fog light, it is mandatory to turn it on, Savovski said. Not doing so can result in a fine of up to 80 euros. If the car does not have a fog light, the driver is still allowed to drive in fog.
Within city limits, the speed limit is 50 kph, Savovski said, outside city limits, it is 100 kph, unless indicated otherwise. On the Autobahn, the recommended speed is 130 kph, unless a lower speed limit is indicated. Even when it is allowed to drive faster, people might lose their insurance coverage in an accident in bad weather conditions, he said.
On U.S. Army Garrison Wiesbaden premises, the speed limit is 30 kph. People who drive faster might be suspended from driving on post for a 30-day period according to regulation, he said.
On a German Autobahn, it is not only a recommendation, Savovski said, it is a law to drive in the right lane whenever possible. For passing a slower car, the driver has to change to the left lane. It is forbidden to pass cars on the right side. If a driver infringes this rule and the German Polizei sees that, a fine up to 450 euros might be imposed. The only exceptions to the rule are getting on the Autobahn, exiting it or being stuck in a traffic jam.
“I always say the left lane is for BMW, the middle one for Golf and the right lane for Corsa,” Savovski said, referring to the differing maximum speed of the three cars with the Corsa being the slowest one.
Within the city limits, the lanes can be chosen freely, he said. Outside of city limits, passing other cars on the right is forbidden.
Most roundabouts have yield signs, which means cars in the circle have the right of way, Savovski said. However, some do not have signs. In these cases, the right-before-left rule applies and the driver to enter the circle has the right of way. Once in the roundabout, the driver has to yield to the right.
When in a traffic jam, drivers have to keep an emergency lane for emergency personnel, Savovski said.
During an emergency, mere seconds can save lives. “Once traffic slows down, drivers in the left lane should move as far to the left as possible, while drivers in the other lanes should all move as far as possible to the right. Failure to do so, can result in a fine,” said Thomas Becker, first police chief inspector with the Wiesbaden Police Directorate.
A Parkscheibe is a plastic device that lets the driver indicate the time of arrival, and has to be placed on the dashboard. This device is necessary in some residency zones where parking is limited to a certain time frame — usually two hours — in certain streets and on some supermarket parking lots. The need to use the Parkscheibe will always be indicated. It can get expensive if the Parkscheibe is required and the driver forgets to put it on the dashboard, he said.
For more information on traffic rules in Germany, contact the Drivers Testing and Training Station (https://www.afsbeurope.army.mil/Logistics-Readiness-Centers/LRC-Bavaria/Transporation-Division/Drivers-Testing).