Driving in Germany can be both an exhilarating and frustrating experience. In a country renowned for its high performance cars and high speed Autobahns, Germany hosts more traffic volume than any nation in Europe and, as a result, suffers the continent’s highest injury-accident rate. Many German traffic regulations differ a great deal from those observed in the United States. Some of the most important regulations and driving tips are discussed below.
BLACK ICE OR “GLATTEIS”
A particular hazard of driving in Europe in the winter time is the danger of “black ice” or “Glatteis.” The best way to recognize black ice is by surface reflection, but that dull patch just ahead might be ice also.
Be especially wary in the early morning or late evening and near or on bridges. If you see the patch, take your foot off the gas quickly. Once on an icy section, do not accelerate, brake, gear down or make any sudden change in direction. Keep well behind other cars. If starting to lose control, steer toward the edge of the road where residues of sand and salt might help.
DRINKING & DRIVING
German law concerning what constitutes driving a vehicle while under the influence of alcohol is different than American law. It must be understood, however, that there are many variables which alter the effects of alcohol upon a person, i.e., weight of the person, type of alcoholic beverage consumed, etc. It is therefore difficult to list all conditions and aspects of what constitutes drunken driving.
The important thing is NOT TO DRINK AND DRIVE.
Under German law it is illegal to operate a vehicle if the blood level is 0.5 per mill or higher. The law imposes a penalty and the withdrawal of the driver’s license for specified periods of time depending upon the gravity of each violation.
Before pulling into the left lane to pass, check the rear view mirror very carefully as far back as you can see. Cars travelling at 160-180 km per hour approach suddenly, so when passing, do so quickly and then quickly return to the right lane. Some impatient drivers flash their headlights, use their blinker, and tailgate to pressure slower cars ahead into moving out of the way.
These practices have been outlawed recently, and it is best to ignore this behavior if it is directed at you. (Within the city a driver may flash his lights at you as a signal that you may turn into the street or turn left across his lane of traffic, but do so with caution.)
In case of a breakdown, look for arrows at the top of the white posts lining the road. They’ll lead you to the nearest emergency call box, located every 1.5 to 3 km along the Autobahns. Merely lift the handle and an operator will answer.
Germans are very sensitive to any damage to their cars, so be sure to avoid bumping them. Remember that causing any damage whatsoever to another vehicle is considered an accident, and you should not leave the scene until the owner or a policeman has
come. Leaving a note on the windshield of the damaged car with your name and phone number is not an accepted practice here. If you should leave the scene, you might be charged with a “hit and run.”
Parking is generally permitted along the streets, unless there is a sign to the contrary. Signs will show whether parking or standing is allowed or not, and whether you must park with two or four wheels on the sidewalk, or use a Parkscheibe.
A Parkscheibe is a plastic disc, available at gas stations, which you must use in marked areas of limited but unmetered parking.
The disc is set to indicate at what time you parked in a space and is displayed on your dashboard. Failing to do so when required means at least a €10.00 fine.
RIGHT OF WAY
Vehicles coming from the right have the right of way unless signs are posted otherwise. Pedestrians have the right of way as soon as they step into the crosswalk. Beware of cyclists on the bike paths, parti-cularly when you are making a right turn.
Snow chains can be rented from gas stations midway through your journey and then dropped off at another station further down the road. Sometimes membership in the German Automobile Club ADAC is necessary for this service, but not always. The cost is low and is based on km’s travelled. Stop as soon as you think you may need the chains, because supplies are limited at each station.
Speed limits are 50 km per hour in cities and towns and 100 km on state highways unless otherwise marked. There is no speed limit on the Autobahn, except where marked (but a top speed of 130 km is recommended by the German authorities).
To convert kilometers to miles; drop the 0 and multiply by 6, e.g. 40 KMH equals 4x6 or roughly 24 MPH.
Photo by Juergen Faelchle/shutterstock.com
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