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The German rules of the road that are hard to get your head around

Driving on German roads can be fun, or terrifying, depending on your level of experience. But it is important to be aware that there are some subtle differences here to the rules in other countries. Here’s what you need to know.

The German rules of the road that are hard to get your head around
A Rettungsgasse. Photo: DPA

Germany indisputably makes some of the best cars in the world. Even if you don’t own your own, driving a BMW or Mercedes down an Autobahn is surely on everyone’s German bucket list.

But before you hit the autobahn, or even the streets of your city, you should learn these rules.

Rechts vor Links!

Right before left is one of the most important rules of driving in Germany, especially in the cities. Getting used to a rule that relies on trust of other drivers can take time though.

READ ALSO: Fines and speed limits: Germany votes on new traffic rules

To explain: there is a hierarchy of controls at German junctions. At the very top is the policeman: if he is on the street controlling traffic he overrides all other traffic signals. Then comes the traffic light, followed by give way, stop and Vorfahrt signs. 

A Vorfahrt sign is a yellow diamond inside a white diamond and signals that your street has priority regardless of whether a car is approaching a junction from your left or right side.

A man holding a Vorfaht sign. Photo: DPA

But, if there are no signs, then the principle of Rechts vor Links kicks in. This is very common in inner cities. Even if you think your road is bigger, if a car approaches from a smaller road on the right you need to give way to them.

This also applies to bicycles. If the car approaches from the left though, you have priority.

Even Germans don’t always get this rule right. Just sit for an hour at a busy junction where this rule applies and you are sure to see at least one argument.

Freie Fahrt für freie Bürger!

To be fair, this isn’t so much a rule as a way of life. Freie Fahrt für freie Bürger means free travel for free citizens and is a slogan from the seventies referring to the joys of an autobahn without speed limits.

In case you haven’t noticed, people drive fast on the far left lane of the autobahn.

According to the law, the minimum speed for driving on the left lane is 60 km/h. In reality don’t even think about pulling over there on a three-lane motorway unless you're doing at least 120 km/h.

Typical speeds on the fast lane are between 150 km/h and 190 km/h, so you have to have a head for it.

Rechtsfahrgebot

Literally meaning the “order to drive on the right”, the Rechtsfahrgebot applies on the autobahn and is there to stop slow drivers blocking the faster lanes.

Essentially it means that you should, whenever possible, drive on the right lane (which is the slow lane). Sticking to the middle or left lane is actually forbidden, even though many drivers do it anyway.

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

The rule has been relaxed in recent years though, as travel authorities have come to see that forcing people to change lanes all the time can actually make the roads more dangerous.

Now the law states that one is permitted to stay in the middle lane when there is slower traffic on the right lane “now and again.”

According to the German Automobile Club, if your next overtaking manoeuvre will happen in the next 20 seconds you are allowed to stay in the middle or left lane.

People who fail to adhere to the rule risk an €80 fine and one point on their licence.

Anlieger frei

Photo: DPA

A sign that you will come across on a lot of small roads is a red circle with a white centre and the words “Anlieger frei” underneath it. This is such jargon, even people with good German might not understand it at first.

The word Anlieger doesn’t exist in German law, but it refers to someone with an “anliegendem Grundstück” (adjacent plot of land). So the sign literally means “free for adjacents.”

All you need to know is that you are not allowed to use the street unless you live on it or are visiting someone who lives there. Or, if you own a garden there you are also allowed to use it.

Fines of €50 will be slapped on transgressors.

The Parkscheibe

Photo: DPA

Many parking places in Germany allow you to park for free but only for a set amount of time. To allow traffic wardens to monitor this, every car has a Parkscheibe, which is a little blue and white disk that you put on your dashboard. You adjust the time on it to the closest half hour after you park.

Typically, you can park for an hour without payment. You are not allowed to just return to your car and move the time on the disk at the end of the hour.

Rettungsgasse

If you’ve ever driven on a German autobahn then you've probably been stuck in traffic at some point. Crashes are fairly regular occurrences on the busy interstates.

So that ambulances can get to the site of the accident as quickly as possible, all the cars that come to a stop behind the crash need to build a Rettungsgasse (rescue lane). 

The rule is that, if you are on the left lane you move to the far left side. If you are on any other lane, you move to the right hand side.

Member comments

  1. So, all in all not very difficult really. Give way to the right when obligatory, keep to the right when obligatory and don´t park where you aren´t supposed to…

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DRIVING

EXPLAINED: The rules for riding an e-scooter in Germany

The popularity of electric scooters in Germany has exploded in the last few years, but many people still aren't sure what the rules for driving them are. We break them down.

EXPLAINED: The rules for riding an e-scooter in Germany

Germany is currently the world’s second-largest market for e-scooter rental after the USA, which might explain why you have the feeling that you’re seeing the electric vehicles everywhere these days, at least in cities. 

According to a recent survey by ADAC,15 percent of people in Germany aged 16 and over regularly use e-scooters. Of these, 45 percent own their own scooter, while 55 percent rent the vehicles from sharing services.

Here are the rules for driving an e-scooter that you need to know.

Who can drive an e-scooter?

Anyone over the age of 14 can ride an electric scooter and you don’t need to have a driving license to use one. However, many of the traffic rules for motorists also apply to e-scooter riders, and misbehaving on a scooter could end up costing you points on your driving license or even getting you a driving ban.

READ ALSO: Driving in Germany: Eight German road signs that confuse foreigners

Can more than one person ride an e-scooter?

No. Only one person is allowed to ride a scooter and if you are caught riding in two, you will get a €10 fine.

Although it might be fun, riding side by side on two scooters is also not allowed and can be punished with a fine of between €15 and €30. Instead, you and your friends have to ride in single file.

Where can you ride an e-scooter?

E-scooters are principally allowed on bike paths and in bike lanes and you can only drive them on the road if there is no bike lane available. If you do drive on the road, you must keep as far to the right as possible and you are not allowed to ride in bus lanes.

It’s also forbidden to ride an e-scooter on the motorway – doing so will get you a €20 fine. 

Riding an e-scooter on the pavement, in pedestrian-only zones, or in one-way streets against the direction of traffic is also not allowed and can land you a fine of between €15 and €30.

However, e-scooters are allowed on one-way or no-entry roads which have a “cyclists free” sign.

A no-entry sign with a “cyclists free” sign underneath. This sign also applies to e-scooters. Photo: picture alliance / dpa | Jens Kalaene

Which traffic light rules apply to electric scooters?

E-scooter riders have to abide by traffic lights just like motorists, and the fine for ignoring a red light on an e-scooter is between €60 and €180.

However, if there is also a traffic light for bicycles, e-scooter riders can follow this one instead.

Is there an alcohol limit for electric scooters?

Yes, the same alcohol limits for motorists apply to electric scooter riders.

This means that anyone who drives with a blood alcohol level of between 0.5 to 1.09 is liable for a fine of €500, a 1-month driving ban and 2 points on their driving license.

It’s a criminal offence to ride an electric scooter with a blood alcohol concentration of at more than 1.1, as is causing an accident with a blood alcohol level of more than 0.3.

Under 21s must be completely alcohol free – with a blood alcohol level of 0.0 – to ride an e-scooter.

Where can e-scooters be parked?

E-scooters can be parked at the roadside, on the pavement and in pedestrian zones with designated e-scooter parking areas. However, e-scooters must be parked in such a way that they don’t obstruct or endanger pedestrians or other road users. 

Parked e-scooters in Stuttgart. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Christoph Schmidt

Which rules are there for e-scooter owners?

If you’ve upgraded from renting to owning your own scooter, there are certain requirements you have to be aware of. 

Firstly, it’s mandatory to have liability insurance and a special sticker (similar to a license plate) stuck to the scooter to show that it is insured.

READ ALSO: German words you need to know: Haftpflichtversicherung

E-scooter owners also have to make sure that they have two independently working brakes and lights. 

Which other rules should I be aware of?

As with driving a car or cycling, you are not allowed to use your mobile phone while riding an e-scooter (which is pretty challenging anyway). If you’re caught doing so, you’ll get a €100 fine and a point on your driving license. 

It’s not mandatory to wear a helmet when riding an e-scooter, though it is recommended. 

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