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How some people are allowed to be stoned at the wheel in Germany

Is it logical that you can have your driving licence taken away if you smoke weed for fun, but those who take it as medicine are free to judge their own ability to drive? Not really, say several experts.

How some people are allowed to be stoned at the wheel in Germany
Photo: DPA

Since March last year roughly 13,000 people have been prescribed cannabis by their doctors in Germany under a new law which legalized the drug for people suffering from chronic pain.

There are no figures available on how many of these people also drive. What is clear though is that they are free to drive if they want to, regardless of how much cannabis they have just smoked. According to the law, it is up to the patients themselves to decide if they trust themselves to drive.

This is in stark contrast to people who smoke cannabis recreationally. They risk losing their licence if they are caught smoking a joint, even if they are nowhere near their car.

From a toxicological point of view it makes no difference whether one got their supply from the local pharmacy or from a dealer, says Prof. Thomas Daldrup, a toxicologist at the University of Düsseldorf.

Daldrup will be speaking at a conference this week organized by the German Traffic Assembly (VGT) on the theme “cannabis consumption and driving.”

The German Council for Road Safety (DVR) complains that German lawmakers never even considered the role of road safety when they passed the law on medical marijuana.

Herbert Engelmohr, from the car club AvD, also complains that drivers should not be the ones who get to decide if they are fit to drive.

“Whoever sits behind a wheel should be sober,” he stated.

“What legislatures have allowed to happen here has in no way taken account of the safety of other drivers,” said Kay Nehm, head of the VGT.

The Accident Researchers for German Insurers (UDV) meanwhile, point to the fact that doctors can prescribe patients up to 100 grams of cannabis for 30 days, which is enough for 30 joints a day – a fairly substantial amount.

But the German Lawyers’ Association sees things differently. A spokesman made clear that cannabis should be treated like every other medicine.

“If doctors don’t believe that cannabis consumption does anything to reduce one’s capabilities to drive, then there is no reason to doubt a patient’s capability to drive,” the spokesman stated.

At the VGT conference, the experts will also discuss what quantity of illegal cannabis can be consumed before a user can be considered unfit to drive. German courts have not yet been able to come to a consensus on this question.

The German Hemp Association also commented before the conference. It stated that it sees it as discriminatory that, while one can only be punished for consuming alcohol when one drives, cannabis users can have their licence taken away even if they were not behind the wheel.

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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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