Driving in Germany
Germany is a nation of car enthusiasts, however strict rules apply when driving in Germany and expats may be required to get a German driver's licence.
Germany is a nation of car enthusiasts with 3 million registered owners – the largest number in the EU. Strict rules apply however and it is important to be mindful of the rules when driving in Germany.
German driving licence
If you are a citizen of an EEA member country (EU plus Iceland, Norway and Lichtenstein), you do not need to obtain a separate German licence if you already hold a licence for your home country.
Other foreigners permanently residing in Germany may use an international driving licence initially, but should apply for a German driving licence within six months of arriving in the country. The process for exchanging your current driver’s licence for a German equivalent is determined by whether a reciprocal arrangement exists with the country that issued your existing license. For some countries you may have to sit a written exam and/or a driving test, while for others the process is a fairly simple one of forwarding documents without the need to take any additional tests. If you do have to submit documents, the following are likely to be required:
- Identity card or passport;
- Certificate of registration from the Residents’ Registration Office;
- Recent photograph;
- Original driver’s licence;
- Certificate of good conduct (in some cases).
You can check with your local driver licensing authority to confirm whether a reciprocal arrangement is in place.
If you have held your driver’s licence for less than two years prior to living in Germany you will be considered a probationary driver.
If you are a younger driver please bear in mind that the minimum driving age in Germany is 18. Therefore, if you are 17 or younger you will be unable to drive, even if you have previously been issued with a licence in your home country.
Road taxes in Germany
Motor vehicle tax in Germany is payable by the registered keeper of the motor vehicle and the tax liability begins from the time the vehicle is registered with the vehicle licensing authorities, ending when the vehicle is de-registered.
The amount of motor vehicle tax payable is fixed in a written notice of assessment and is payable one year in advance, as a rule. The due date of the tax depends on when the motor vehicle was licensed.
Germany also levies passenger car taxes partially or totally based on the car’s carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions and/or fuel consumption.
Speed limits in Germany
Speed limits are 50 km per hour in cities and towns and 100kph outside cities/towns on the so-called Landstrasse, unless otherwise marked. In certain areas, such as where schools are located, the speed limit is even lower - 30kph. Some urban areas are also marked as so-called Schrittempo zones, where you are expected to crawl along in first gear.
There is no speed limit on the Autobahn, except in areas marked with signs for particular speeds. The German road authorities, however, recommend a top speed of 130kph on the Autobahn.
Notably, you don’t generally have to pay motorway tolls in Germany.
When cruising through neighbourhoods with no stop signs, cars to the right always have right of way. The speed limit within the city is 50kph unless otherwise noted. The fastest you can go on the highways within the city is 100kph, and the unlimited speed limits don’t kick in on the autobahn until you’re well outside the city.
A diamond-shaped sign with a yellow centre means you have the right of way at an intersection. In built-up areas, if there's no yellow diamond sign, you must give way to any cars coming out of a side road turning onto the right. All traffic lights also have such signs to show who has right of way should the lights go out, which seems to happen surprisingly frequently for a society that prides itself on order. You may only pass on the left and in practice Germans do, in fact, only pass on the left.
Fines and offences in Germany
Germany takes a tough line where traffic offences are concerned with a focus on removing dangerous drivers from the roads. Relatively minor offences incur fines of up to four points while more serious offences will attract between 5 – seven points. Driving poorly while intoxicated will earn you seven points as well as the immediate loss of your driving licence and potentially a large fine or a prison sentence. If it’s your first offence, your licence will likely only be taken for three to six months. Fines are often based on your income, for example 120 days’ worth of pay.
Fines for speeding start at EUR 15 for exceeding the speed limit by up to 10kph in an urban area. If you go over 70kph, you will be hit with a EUR 680 fine, get 4 points on your licence points and lose your licence for three months. Going more than 25kph over the speed limit in an urban area will get you one point and up to a EUR 80 fine and one point on your license. Anything over 30kph the posted limit will land you with three to four points and a fine of at least EUR 160. You’ll also lose your licence for at least a month.
If you get caught speeding by a traffic camera you will not know it immediately but will receive a speeding ticket through the mail. Driving a hire car will not save you, as the rental car company will simply forward any tickets to your home address. Additionally, the police also set up speed traps, which may require you to pay a fine on the spot.
In line with most EU states drinking with alcohol in the system can result in severe penalties. Drivers can be punished for blood alcohol levels of from 30mg per 100ml of blood, if the person’s driving is impaired. If low levels of alcohol are present but driving is unaffected punishment is not automatically required. In Germany, by law, a driver can be forced to submit to a blood test.
Germany is stricter on younger drivers and those on probation. If there is any alcohol present in drivers up to the age of 21 they will receive two points and a EUR 250 fine, regardless of whether driving is impaired. Where blood alcohol levels are higher than 50mg per 100ml, younger drivers or those in their probationary period will receive a EUR 500 fine, four points on their licence and a one-month driving ban for a first offence. Subsequent offences or where driving is impaired are punished even more severely.
Driving without a licence will prevent you from holding a licence for at least another six months, as well as incurring a fine of 180 days’ pay. Since you don’t technically have a license, you can’t accrue any points. If you just forget your license, you’re looking at a EUR 10 warning.
And buckle up: seatbelts are mandatory in Germany, as are child seats. Drivers are fined between EUR 30 – 50 and may also get points on their license.
Parking in Germany
Parking can be difficult to manage in the larger cities, particularly at busy periods such as the weekend and citizens often rely on street parking. Neighbourhoods often use metered parking. These are coin-based and machines mostly don’t accept plastic cards. The cost of metered parking varies considerably depending on the location but as a rule of thumb it costs from EUR 1 per hour to EUR 1 per half-hour. Residents can usually obtain parking permits from the Einwohnermeldeamt.
Places where parking is allowed but meters are not present are sometimes designated as parking with a Parkscheibe. This is a double cardboard disc that shows the time you parked and which you display under your windshield.
If you receive a parking fine you can expect to pay between EUR 5 – 40. An anomaly of the rules is that you can sometimes be fined more for parking beyond an allotted period than for not buying a ticket at all (EUR 10 / EUR 5).
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