Driving In Germany: Your Complete Guide
When you think about driving in Germany one of the first thoughts likely to come into your mind is the Autobahn. Perhaps you could add Mercedes-Benz, VW, and some pretty spectacular routes to the mix too.
Germany is a global powerhouse in more or less all it puts its efforts into and tourism is no different. In 2022 there were around 163 million tourist arrivals in travel accommodations making it one of the most popular destinations on the continent.
A large number of these people choose to drive or hire a car upon arrival and with that in mind, the next in our guides covers everything you need to know about driving in Germany. From speed limits to safety documents and beyond, all you need to know to ensure your time on the German roads is safe and enjoyable is right here!
Driving to Germany from UK
For a lot of people, a drive from the UK to Germany is the preferred way to get into the country. Providing both drivers and passengers with perhaps a more immersive experience, the drive can take you through a host of great towns and cities. Before committing to this drive though, you would be best to prepare yourself and your car as there are many miles ahead for you to conquer!
Before doing anything, you should consider giving your car a check-over, even booking it in for a service if need be. We like the acronym that the RAC uses that gives you a key outline of the things you should be checking.
By using the FORCES word as a guide, you can check:
O – Oil
R – Rubber
E – Electrics
S – Screen Wash
Do this a few days before you head to Germany to ensure your car is in its best possible condition. As we mentioned in a previous guide, do not do it the night before you travel as should a problem be discovered, you have little to no chance of getting it fixed in time.
With your car prepped, you will need to make sure you have a route that helps you get to where you need to go and the correct documents and safety accessories. We will cover them further down the page but for now let’s get you route planning!
You will need to board a ferry or the Eurotunnel to France to get your Germany trip underway. Remember, attach a UK, not a GB sticker to your car. Without one you will find yourself in a bit of trouble!
The routes you can take once in France vary, with Germany taking up a large land mass, there are a host of ways you can reach your destination. Commonly, people head to the cities like Berlin, Frankfurt or Dusseldorf and routes to these cities will see you experience parts of France, Belgium, Holland and then Germany, Other routes can see you go slightly deeper into France and then onto Luxembourg, before covering ground in Belgium and Holland too.
You can expect the drive to take just over 10 hours but weather, traffic and your stops could add much more to this duration.
What to pack when driving to Germany from UK
If you are making the trip in your own car, there will be a few things you must pack to ensure you remain within the law of the German roads. Without them, on-the-spot fines can be issued, not ideal if your time in the country has only just started!
You must ensure you have:
- A UK sticker and NOT GB
- Reflective jackets
- First-aid kit (this is only compulsory in a 4wd vehicle in Germany, but we recommend you take one)
- Headlamp beam deflectors (depending on the car, you can either adjust the beam yourself or will need to apply deflector stickers)
- Warning triangles
- Winter tyres (if travelling in wintry conditions)
Should you be collecting a hire car upon arrival in Germany, these items should come provided, all except the sticker as it will not be needed. It is always worth checking with your hire car provider though as without them you could find yourself in lots of trouble.
It isn’t just safety items though; certain documentation must be carried at all times.
Driving in Germany requirements
If you are driving your own car from the UK into Germany, current law allows you to import your vehicle for up to six months in any twelve months. You must always ensure you carry:
- A full valid UK driving licence
- Proof of ID, preferably a passport
- Car insurance documents
- V5 registration document
Should it be a rental car you are driving, the requirements are a little different and just like when driving your own car in Germany, penalties may be issued if you or the hiring company are not fully compliant. To drive a rental car in Germany, you must:
- Be at least 18 years old, some rental companies will require you to be 21 and over.
- Hold a valid licence and a valid second form of ID. (You may be asked to have held your licence for as much as 3 years before being allowed to rent a car)
- A valid credit card (rentals are almost impossible with a debit card)
- An International Driving Permit may also be required but check with the rental agency before booking a car.
In the rental car, you must carry the same items as listed for an owned car, but we would also suggest carrying any paperwork in relation to your car hire excess insurance.
Driving in Germany with a UK licence
A full UK driver’s licence is valid in Germany but should you be living there, it will become invalid after six months. After this time, you will need to speak to the local Burgeramt to organise the transfer of your licence from a UK one to a German one. You will not need to take a new driving test.
You do not normally need an International Driving Permit (IDP) to accompany your driving licence when driving in Germany unless you hold just a paper licence or have one that was issued in Gibraltar, Guernsey or Jersey.
Driving a rental car may see you need to have both, but this can vary from city to city and between rental companies so check in advance of booking anything.
Now that you have planned your route, checked your car, hired one if needed and collated the correct documentation, we should look at the rules around being on the road in Germany when you are behind the wheel.
Speed limit in Germany
Germany is well known for its Autobahn and the high speeds that drivers reach on that particular road type. Before turning a wheel in anger, it would be wise to know just how fast you can drive in Germany. Also note, all speeds are shown in Km/h so it may take some getting used to!
Maximum speed limits are shown on a red circle with white background and black numbers, where the limit ends, a white sign with a thin black outline and the speed limit struck through by four black lines will be displayed. Some roads also have a minimum speed, these are shown on a blue sign with white numbers, these also can come to an end and are shown with a red stripe across the speed limit on the same design of the sign.
Before we list the speed limits, it may be good to dispel a little myth. Much talk is that there is no speed limit on the autobahn. This is a little true but not completely. Only some areas of the autobahn operate with no speed limit and these are illustrated with a white circular sign crossed with four diagonal lines. At the time of writing approximately 30% of the autobahn has a permanent or variable speed limit with an additional 10% operating traffic control systems.
The current speed limits are:
|Road Type||Speed Limit|
|Autobahn (white sign)||No limit/variable|
|Autobahn (red sign)||130km/h|
|Certain city roads||30km/h|
Where certain roads carry the minimum speed limits, if a car cannot maintain those speeds on flat ground, it will not be allowed onto the six-lane motorways.
What side of the road do they drive on in Germany?
With the car prepped or hired, the route planned, and all your documents stored as well as a good understanding of how fast you can drive, it would be wise to know what side of the road you can do this on! In Germany, you drive on the right and overtake on the left. Although, should heavy traffic have built up into queues, and two or more lanes are moving in the same direction vehicles on the right may overtake those on the left.
Who has priority on roads in Germany?
Traffic from the right will have priority at crossroads and junctions and all vehicles must give way to emergency vehicles that have blue flashing lights, regardless of whether they are being sounded or not.
Vehicles turning off at an intersection always have to give way to oncoming vehicles and should you be approaching an intersection, It cannot be entered unless their exit is clear. This will even apply when lights are green or they have priority.
Traffic on a roundabout always has the right of way unless any signage indicated otherwise, drivers should also indicate before they leave the roundabout but not when they enter it.
If a bus, and in particular a school bus has stopped, it must be given priority when it leaves and other vehicles must give way when the bus signals its intention to move on.
Driving rules in Germany
As with any road, there are various rules to follow and whilst we have covered speed limits and the correct side of the road, there are certain other things you need to remain aware of so that you do not receive a fine, or worst case, a ban or prison sentence.
- Seatbelts must be worn in all cars that have them fitted in front and rear seats.
- All children must wear a seatbelt or have a suitable car seat. Children under 3yrs old cannot travel in a car without a child restraint or seat. All children aged under 12 and less than 150cm tall must be in a child seat or restraint.
- The maximum alcohol blood level is 0.05% and for new drivers or those under 21, the limit is 0%.
- The use of mobile phones whilst driving is illegal. A 7-day suspension will be issued if caught.
- Give way to emergency vehicles with blue flashing lights
- Give priority to school buses that have signalled their intention to move on.
- Rude gestures will see you reported and fined
- Insulting a police officer or someone of similar holding could see you fined or sent to prison.
- Always leave a rescue lane on the autobahn in congested areas even if there seems to be no risk present to drivers.
- Winter tyres must be used in wintry weather and typically at all times from October until early April.
And if you missed it in the previous section.
- In Germany they drive on the right and overtake on the left.
- Speed limits range from as low as 30km/h on some roads up to no limit on certain parts of the Autobahn.
Parking rules in Germany
Another way to steer clear of fines is to park properly. In Germany, a vehicle is classed as parked if it is stationary for three minutes or more! You cannot park at:
- Anywhere a parking prohibited sign is displayed
- In narrow roads or where visibility could be reduced
- On taxi ranks
- Within 15 metres of a bus stop
- Along the kerb and facing oncoming traffic
- Within 5 metres of pedestrian crossings
- Within 5 metres of intersections
- In front of driveways and narrow streets opposite them
- On the carriageway of priority roads outside built-up areas
For drivers registered as disabled, parking for up to three hours will be allowed in restricted or no-parking areas as long as the time of arrival is indicated on the windscreen. In addition, disabled drivers can benefit from free and unlimited parking at parking meters and pay and display parking spaces. Disabled drivers can further benefit from the fact they can get up to 3 hours of parking ins spaces for resident permit holders. Whilst all this sound fantastic and very helpful, it must be remembered that these benefits are only available if no other suitable parking is close by,
Driving fines and penalties in Germany
We have mentioned some aspects that could see you receiving a fine in Germany for breaking some driving laws. Small indiscretions could see you asked to pay as little as €10 but some severe speed limit breaches could see you asked to pay more than €600.
Drink-driving and reckless driving can see much harsher penalties that could see your licence revoked or even a prison sentence imposed. Vehicles can even be confiscated and if you are driving a rental, this can prove to be a very expensive problem to sort out unless you have the right kind of insurance.
On-the-spot fines are common, and the police are authorised to hand them out up to a value of €55, however, should the offence demand a higher penalty, the police can claim amounts higher than this, especially if the total fine is likely to be much higher after the incident has run through the legal system.
Car Insurance in Germany for hire cars
You must be insured to drive in Germany, so it is right to get the best possible policy to ensure you are covered against all eventualities. With your rental car, you should already be covered in some form but it is highly advisable to take holiday car hire excess insurance when visiting a country with different driving rules to your own. This way you can steer clear of the costly excess fees you may otherwise find yourself lumbered with should there be an accident or problem.
To get some more information and find out how easy it is to make your drive worry-free, contact us today. We offer a free quote and a variety of rental car excess insurance policies suitable for all budgets and drivers. Speak to us today so your Germany trip can get underway tomorrow!