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How trucks from eastern Europe are coming to dominate German roads

If you drive on the motorway and on country roads often, you may have noticed not only an increase in trucks, but that these vehicles hail from countries such as Poland, Czech Republic and Romania. This development highlights several issues.

How trucks from eastern Europe are coming to dominate German roads
Trucks on the motorway on the way Germany from Poland. Photo: DPA.

The mileage of lorries with a gross vehicle weight of 7.5 tonnes or more on roads in Germany rose to around 25.2 billion kilometres between January and September 2017, according to surveys conducted by the Federal Office for Goods Transport (BAG).

This figure is 3.5 percent higher than the figure determined for the previous year, thus demonstrating strong growth in automobile freight transport across the country.

Earlier predictions saw an average annual growth rate of only 2 percent. But those predictions have now been surpassed due to Germany’s positive economic development and favourable diesel prices.

Not only are there more and more lorries on roads across the Bundesrepublik, current data show that many of them are coming from outside Germany.

READ ALSO: Austria files lawsuit against Germany over autobahn 'foreigner tolls'

Lorries from countries that have become EU members since 2004 accounted for 33 percent of heavy goods traffic between January and August this year. Ten years ago, this figure was almost half the amount at 18 percent in the same period.

The largest share of this figure consists of trucks from Poland – just under 16 percent. Trucks from the Czech Republic and Romania follow suit with about 4 percent and 3.5 percent, respectively.

But this development isn’t necessarily a good thing for German freight forwarding agencies, as this is the tenth year in a row that their share of traffic has steadily declined.

In the period from January to August 2017, trucks with domestic license plates accounted for under 58 percent of heavy goods traffic. Ten years earlier, it was almost 66 percent. The situation is similar in other founding EU member states, according to Die Welt.

Meanwhile, associations in Germany are concerned about cheap competition. According to truck lobbyists and independent market experts, a significant growth in truck transport in the country highlights among other things a difference in wages and social conditions for lorry drivers across the EU.

Many trucks from abroad for instance are permanently stationed in Germany and drivers are only home every few weeks or months. These drivers mainly come from central and eastern European countries and they are paid on the terms and conditions of their home countries.

In August, French President Emmanuel Macron pushed to overhaul the scope of the controversial so-called Posted Workers Directive rule which allows EU firms to send temporary workers from low-wage countries to richer nations without paying their local social charges (e.g. health and welfare systems). Backed by Germany, France wants the job duration of posted employees to be limited to 12 months.

In Germany, there is a lack of truck drivers to fill demand. According to the Federal Association of Road Haulage, Logistics and Disposal (BGL), the effects of the shortage of skilled workers in logistics are taking on previously unknown dimensions.

While over 16,211 apprentices and trainees acquired a truck driver’s license in Germany last year, some 30,000 truck drivers retire each year.

SEE ALSO: Six reasons why I never want to drive on the Autobahn again

The development is also something that affects everyday car drivers on German streets. Non-truck drivers might be able to relate with the feeling of arriving at a rest stop on the motorway only to have to leave again because it’s so crowded.

In Germany, rest and leisure time for truck drivers are legally prescribed, meaning that car parks on motorways are often full – partly due to an abundance of parked lorries.

A car park on the autobahn. Photo: DPA.

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DRIVING

How much does it cost to get a driving licence in Germany?

When it comes to getting behind the wheel, Germany has a reputation for being outrageously expensive. Here's a breakdown of the costs you can expect to get hold of a driver's licence in the Bundesrepublik.

How much does it cost to get a driving licence in Germany?

We’ve heard it said that when young Germans want to learn to drive, they usually book a flight to New Zealand first. Apparently, the cost of a round-trip to one of the furthest corners of the earth and a course of lessons down under still ends up being pretty much on-par with what they might pay for lessons at home – and they get the added bonus of an exotic trip. 

Now, while we can’t currently verify how many people are heading to Auckland to get behind the wheel, we can tot up some of the costs of getting a driving licence here in the Bundesrepublik.

Obviously, if you’re simply exchanging a licence from another country for a German one or renewing an old one, the costs will be minimal. But learning to drive from scratch and taking both a theory and practical test can add up pretty quickly.

Here’s a rough overview of the costs you’ll need to budget for when getting your first driving licence in Germany. Bear in mind that there are a lot of variables here though, depending on your natural skill as a driver, the size of city you live in and the federal state. 

What type of licence do I need?

There are a huge range of possible driving licences to apply for in Germany, ranging from a scooter to an HGV and everything in between. The vast majority of people will want to apply for a Class B licence, however, as this entitles them to drive an ordinary car. 

The cost of getting a Class B licence

  • Basic tuition fee

This fee generally covers both admin costs and theory lessons. According to financescout24, the average basic fee in Germany is €200

  • Mandatory ‘special trips’

Before you take your test, you’ll need to rack up at least twelve driving hours of so-called ‘special trips’ designed to help you develop all the required skills you’ll need as a driver. These include five hours ‘over land’, which basically means trips through various rural areas, four hours on the motorway and three hours of nighttime driving. 

Special trips tend to cost a little more than ordinary lessons, so you’ll need to budget around €45-60 for each of these, depending on where you live. 

  • Ordinary driving lessons

Of course, learning to drive is about more than just a few trips on the motorway or driving in the dark. You’ll also need to learn everyday driving skills and practice these with a qualified instructor. Unlike in other countries, like the UK, in Germany, you are not allowed to practice with an experienced driver and therefore have to pay an instructor every time you want to drive before you get your licence.

How many lessons you need will of course depend on how quickly you pick up the skills needed. According to Verkehrswacht e.V., an association of driving instructors, people tend to need a minimum of 30 hours of general lessons split into fifteen two-hour lessons.

(Confusingly, a driving ‘hour’ is only 45 minutes, so this would equate to 15 lessons lasting 1.5 hours each.) 

The prices for these ordinary lessons once again vary greatly from state to state and in the major cities, but expect to budget anywhere from €20-€45 per 45-minute session. 

  • Practice materials 

To help you pass your theory test, you’ll need access to learning materials such as apps, books and online practice tests. Handelsblatt estimates that these will set you back between €60 and €80

  • Theory and practice exams 

According to a recent study by price comparison site Compare the Market, Germany is one of the most expensive places in the world to take your driving tests, coming sixth in a survey of 25 different countries around the world. (New Zealand is #21 – just sayin’.) 

For the German theory test, you can expect to pay €22.49 and for the actual driving test, you’ll have to shell out €116.93. That brings the total for both tests to around €140. 

  • Eye tests

For obvious reasons, German law specifies that applicants for most types of driving licence need to get their vision checked by a professional. Luckily, this is one of the more reasonable outlays when learning to drive: the price for this kind of eye test is currently set at a rather random €6.43 and you can find the test at any optician’s. 

READ ALSO: What you need to know about getting a German driving licence

  • First-aid course 

Another mandatory part of getting a driving licence in Germany is taking a specific type of first-aid course. This course is called “life-saving measures at the scene of an accident” and can be booked as a package alongside the eye test.

Since these courses are generally offered privately, the prices do vary, but you should budget anywhere from €14.50 to €50 for this. 

  • Getting the licence

Once you’ve passed your tests and ticked all the other boxes, the only thing left is to get your licence. First, you’ll need a passport photo, which will cost around €5 from an official photo booth, and then you’ll need to apply for the licence at your local Road Traffic Authority, which can cost anywhere between €40 and €70

READ ALSO: Starting (nearly) from scratch: learning how to drive stick shift in Germany

So, how much should I budget overall?

According to business daily Handelsblatt, most people learning to drive in 2022 should budget anywhere between €1,500 and €2,400 for a Class B licence. But there is some disagreement on this. 

Rainer Zeltwanger, chairman of the Driving School Association, says the costs could be even higher due to the additional hygiene measures necessitated by Covid-19. 

“We advise our customers to reckon with €2800 and €3500 for Class B – including external costs,” he told Handelsblatt. Another reason for this is that driving schools have been hiking their costs in recent years. 

What are the cheapest and most expensive places to learn to drive?  

According to insurance company ERGO, Bavaria and Baden-Württemberg are the most expensive states to get a driving licence, while Berlin, Brandenburg and Saxony-Anhalt are the cheapest. You can expect to budget about €700 extra to learn to drive in a pricier state than you would in the cheaper regions.

The Moving International Road Safety Association conducted a survey of the prices of various different driving schools back in 2020 and concluded that the average cost of obtaining a licence was €2,182. 

Woman learning to drive

A driving instructor tutors a student in Hamburg. Photo: picture alliance/dpa/dpa-tmn | Christin Klose

However, they found distinct differences between medium-sized cities and major metropoles. In a medium-sized town or city, learner drivers could expect to pay an average of €2,237 for their licence, while in bigger cities the average was €2,121. This is undoubtedly due to the increased competition in bigger urban areas.

Combining these factors, a place like Berlin that is both a large city and a cheap state would probably be one of the cheaper places to learn to drive. 

READ ALSO: ‘A year-long ordeal’: What I learned from getting my driving licence in Berlin

What happens if I fail my test? 

If you fail either test, you can easily retake it – but you’ll have to pay another €22.49 for each additional theory test or €116.93 for each additional practical test. You’ll probably also want to refresh one or two skills with a driving instructor, so you should also budget some money for additional lessons.

Until 2008, people who failed their test three times were subject to a three-month ban on retakes, after which they had three additional chances to take the test. People who failed the three tests a second time were forced to take a medical and psychological check-up to see whether they were fit to drive.

This legislation has now been scrapped, meaning you can retake as many times as you need to. However, if your driving instructor thinks there may be physical or psychological issues that make you unfit to drive, you may still have to take the medical and psychological check-up. This could set you back anywhere between €350 and €750. 

Can I do my driving test in English? 

Your theory test can be taken in English, but your actual driving lesson can’t – and it also isn’t possible to hire an interpreter as they may offer you assistance without the driving instructor knowing. 

Is it actually cheaper to go to New Zealand? 

According to Jetcost.de, the cheapest return flights available from Frankfurt to Auckland are currently around €1,200. Apparently, getting a driving licence there could cost anywhere between €1,400 and €2,600.

So, at the cheaper end, flights and a driver’s licence in New Zealand could set you back about the same as lessons and a licence in Germany – especially if you live in one of the more expensive states. 

A word to the wise, however: if you do take the ‘down under’ route, you will need to exchange the licence when you get back, so be sure to budget around €35 to €42,60 for that! 

READ ALSO: How do I convert my foreign driver’s licence into a German one?

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