Driving in Germany is a lot of fun, but there are some things you need to know before you rent a car and take off on the Autobahn. This list of twelve things you need to know will help you avoid tickets, stay safe, and have a lot of fun on German Autobahn. By the way, 160 kmh = 100 mph. Important details. 🙂
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12 Things You Need to Know About Driving in Germany
We logged 2900 km on our recent trip to Europe with our four kids and learned a lot about driving through Germany in our rented mini-van. While my husband Dan definitely enjoyed driving at break-neck speed when he could on the Autobahn, there is a lot more to driving in Germany than simply going fast. Take note of these tips so you’re prepared for your German driving adventure!
Best time to drive on the Autobahn
1. Semis are not allowed to drive on Sundays, so the roads are a lot less crowded. It’s very interesting to see the semis pulled over and stopped at all of the rest areas along the roads all day long on Sundays. (They also pull off and stop for the night most nights too). While the roads are less crowded, you will have to navigate around a ton of semis at the rest areas if you’re driving on Sundays. Even so, we found driving on Sundays to be a great time to be on the road!
2. Fridays are also very busy traffic days as commuters head home for the weekend. If at all possible, I recommend either driving earlier in the day on Fridays or not driving at all. For sure, try to arrive at your destination before afternoon/evening rush hour traffic begins, or you will be stuck in lots of staus (traffic jams) on the Autobahn.
Bathrooms on the Autobahn
3. Bathrooms at rest areas (Autobahn Raststaette) cost 70 cents (and you often pay via a vending machine like the one pictured above!) But, on the back of your toilet ticket is a 50 cent coupon to use in the Raststatt store. You can buy one item and use all the coupons you have, so save them all if you have multiple family members using the tiolet. Kids under a certain height are free, and the bathrooms are really clean and well-maintained.
4. Bathrooms at picnic areas are free, but seriously disgusting. It’s worth the 70 cents to use the nice, clean bathrooms at the Raststatt. Otherwise, you’ll be tiptoeing around trash, hovering over nasty toilets, and skipping the sink in favor of hand sanitizer. No fun, especially with young kids.
The “rules” of the Autobahn
5. There are almost always traffic jams and the speed limit changes all the time! Traffic slows during rain, for construction, and in some urban areas, so make sure you pay attention to the speed limits. Also, expect some soft of traffic jam every time you go on the autobahn. Add a bit of extra time to your travel plans to allow for them.
6. There’s a definite system of rules on the autobahn which drivers follow with precision and predictability. Only drive in the left lane to pass, for instance, or you will make a Mercedes, BMW, or Porsche driver mad and get flashed to get over. German drivers switch lanes a lot, but always from the left. Never, ever, ever, pass anyone on the right.
7. Road rage doesn’t really seem to be much of an issue, but you will certainly get flashed if you hang out in the left lane too long. The drivers also like to honk a lot in towns. Drivers do get mad, but it seems different than the real anger I sometimes witness here in the States.
8. Pay attention to toll requirements. Autobahns are toll-free, but if you’re driving in Bavaria, it’s pretty easy to end up in Austria without realizing it. Austrian highways require stickers, called vignettes, that you have to buy at a gas station BEFORE you get on these toll roads. If you’re caught without a vignette (and there are a lot of cameras taking pictures), you’ll get a bill a few weeks later. Ask me how I know this. 😉
Miscellaneous things to consider about driving in Germany
9. The Navigation System you can pay extra for on your rental is worth its weight in gold. The speed limit changes all. the. time. and the navigation system displays the current speed limit on on the dash. I probably don’t have to tell you this, but following the speed limit will keep you from getting tickets. 😉
10. German roads are controlled by a lot of traffic cameras, and they don’t have to let you know that like they do in the US. It’s important to go the speed limit or you might end up getting blitzed and find a speeding ticket in your mailbox.
11. It’s a good idea to familiarize yourself with the German road signs before you go, as they are quite a lot different than the signs we have in the US. For a printable list of German road signs, head on over and print one out.
12. Finally, the word AUSFAHRT. No, it doesn’t mean a bodily function. It’s also not the name of town. Ausfahrt means EXIT (from a road – there’s a different word for an exit from a building) and you’ll see signs indicating exits all along the Autobahn.
Too see where we drove in Germany, head on over to these posts.
And that’s it, my top 12 tips for safe and fun driving in Germany. Have you driven in Germany? What did you learn from the process?