German Autobahns: The Do’s and Don’ts of High-Speed Motoring

Speed limits are the bane of every motoring enthusiast. While we certainly don’t advocate disobeying them and breaking the law, driving at high speeds gets the adrenaline pumping – and the best place to do so is in Germany.

Granted, there are other countries around the globe where there are no speed limits. Our best guess, however, is that you’d rather avoid the likes of North Korea and Afghanistan (…) in favor of the world-renowned, and much more friendly, Autobahns (or Autobahnen, as is the plural in German).

A common misconception is that you can drive as fast as you like in almost any German highway. That’s most certainly not the case: while there are 65 sections with no limits at all where you can reach extraordinary speeds, there’s another 1,800 miles of Autobahn that have speed limits as low as 37 mph (60 km/h).

It is hard to find a motoring journalist who hasn’t experienced (and raved about) the joy of a derestricted Autobahn at, oh, around 150 mph or so. You don’t have to be one to do so, though, as most car rental companies have a lot of suitable machinery, from BMW M3 and M5s to Porsche 911s and even the (relatively new) Jaguar F-Type that you can book.

To do so you’ll have to be at least 27-years old, hold a driving license for at least three years (sorry, no novices…) and show two credit cards.

Even if you tick all the boxes, though, there are certain rules you have to follow for driving on the Autobahn. The locals know them better, so here’s a list of do’s and don’ts from our fellow colleagues at Autobild magazine. You’d better follow them, too, unless you want to get friendly with the Polizei. Trust us you don’t, so here’s what you should look out for.

1. Tailgaiting: An easy way to get handed a heavy fine, lose your driving license or, at the worst case scenario, get sentenced up to 3 years in jail is getting too close to the car in front of you and flashing your lights to force them into moving out of your way.

2. Overtaking on the right: Never, ever even think about it. When doing so, better check your mirrors that there’s no other car behind closing on you at a (usually much) higher speed.

3. “Rechtsfahrgebot”: No, it’s not a local specialty but the law that requires you to drive on the utmost right lane at all times unless you’re overtaking. The left lane is known as the “passing lane” for a reason. Overtake, then move to the right, (not even in the middle) or you’re breaking the Rechtsgahrgebot.

4. U-turns: Verboten under all circumstances. In these high-speed three lane highways, this is a potentially lethal move that may cause serious accidents and is punished severely. Don’t even think about it no matter what.

5. Emergency lanes: Use them only in the case of a real emergency, i.e. if your car breaks down or you run out of fuel (kinda stupid, but it happens). Stopping to have a chat on your cell is ill-advised. You must also turn on your hazard lights, set up a warning triangle and call for help ASAP.

6. Enter and exit: When entering the Autobahn you should be careful and never try to force your way in, or else you might have a close encounter with the law. If you want to exit, you should use your turn signal at 200-300 yards before the ramp, though a slight delay is not a big deal.

By Andrew Tsaousis

Video

  • tkindred

    It’s amazing how much time you can save on the Autobahn. I use to drive across Germany quite often. I would just go as fast as I could go, non stop. Of course in a rental car. I would not do it in my own. I don’t even know if I would drive that way anymore. Not worth the risk. I must say though the drivers in Western Europe are way more courteous to other drivers as far as staying in the slower lane at the right and passing on the left.

  • BrianDH

    That video is incredible. It disgusts me how we don’t have unrestricted sections on our billion dollar high tech expressways here in Australia. All down to feeble minded, job-preserving, public servant thinking and (should I go there?) speed camera revenue. Just disgusting and demeaning to us as a young progressive nation. Imagine paying for a Lambo here in Aus and NOT being able to drive it like in the video legally. Such a waste and shame. Just because the bleeding hearts/greenies would not deem it “appropriate” – God I hate that word when used by those political whingers and do-gooders.

    • Hooned out of town

      What I would say as a daily Autobahn user and as a regular visitor on your freshly expanding roads was that the level of competent multi-lane driving did appear to dangerously vary. No offence, I’m not perfect either!

      Furthermore, it’s also too easily dismissed that high speed public roads need to actually be keep clear of road surface debris at all times (with all its implied heavy maintenance cost/tax). My (brand new) rented SUV in Aus received a large chuck of rock into the driver’s side of the windscreen shattering the whole thing, and also naturally causing a lot of close calls with the sleeping drivers behind me. If all that had happened at Autobahn speeds back home the windscreen wouldn’t be the only irreparable damage.

      For me the most visable overall problem was that the police appear to have a real compex about every single example of ‘non-regulation’ driving as severe “hoon” behaviour. Until the Aussie road cops re-assess their authoritarian nannying streak, the greenies are probably the least of your issues.

      If you can afford to buy a Lambo in Aus (with it’s insane luxury car tax), you can probably afford to buy a track for it too. 😉

    • DukeGanote

      Annoy greenies more by pointing out that autobahns carried 31% of motorized road traffic while accounting for less than 11% of Germany’s traffic deaths. The autobahn fatality rate of 1.7 deaths per billion-travel-kilometers compared favorably with the 5.1 rate on urban streets and 7.6 rate on rural roads. Free-flowing roads also have better fuel-consumption than go-low-stop-and-go urban streets.

  • same rules everywhere except for the speed… That is the same than in France when it’s not free. 130 km/h (80 mph)! The only exception is that on some parts of Germany’s highway no speed limit. But all the other rules are the same and continue to exist. Only stupid “fast and furious” guys think a highway is a racetrack.

    • jh

      well… actually it is the other way around. only autobahn sections are limited. the autobahn itself is unrestricted. over the years, sadly, the limited sections crept their way into being the majority…

  • psiqtas

    Autobahn is just genius – people who drive more and know how to use it is just brilliant – and people from all other countries notice – there’s lot of parts with no speed limits, even though there not many accidents out there!
    5-A: You can’t run out of fuel on the Autobahn from Your fault – it’s a ticket too!

  • TheHake

    I love the Autobahn, but from 2016 it will be tolled. 🙁 I use it a lot to ride between work and home, and it’s great. Lots of cars doing180+km/h safely.

  • Craig

    The speed limit on many highways where I live – in Canada – have just recently been increased to 120 km/h. [74.5 mph] But few people are actually going that fast because there are just way too many deer! At night – I wouldn’t dare go any faster than 90 km/h. Sometimes slower. It’s like driving through Bambiville.

  • + for Autobahn. I love it.

  • CFK

    The only way you can handle it is thinking that it’s not Disney world of speed there are entirely families doing the way to their jobs, it’s a lot more than driving it’s culture and more than nothing respect. It’s normal to see tourists doing things wrong and that’s the fact that they think it’s one more funny piece of their pleasure trip.

    • DukeGanote

      I found it easy to handle. Continuous-flow roads have better fuel-consumption than go-slow-stop-and-go urban streets — plus much lower crash and injury rates since they minimize the common causes of crashes (opposing traffic, crossover traffic, sharp curves and roadside hazards). In 2012, autobahns carried 31% of motorized road traffic while accounting for less than 11% of Germany’s traffic deaths. The autobahn fatality rate of 1.7 deaths per billion-travel-kilometers compared favorably with the 5.1 rate on urban streets and 7.6 rate on rural roads.

  • Vassilis

    If only all countries followed those rules…

  • German

    Nice article although you might have read something wrong with the 60km/h thing.
    I live in Germany and have never heard of or driven on any Autobahn that has a speed limit of 60km/h.
    I think you’re referring to the minimum speed a car has to be able to reach in order to be allowed on it (which is 60).
    I don’t know where you got the ‘1800 miles’ from but I think you have to double-check on that!
    Either way, great article!

  • RV

    People here in Texas are the worst drivers, love to put the vehicle in cruise control on the far left lane (passing lane), no turning signals when exiting or entering the freeway and they always do a “full stop” when there’s a “Yield Sign”,……..

  • MG

    SOME REAL SLOPPY DRIVING THERE.
    RULE 4 & 5 ARE THE ONLY RULES NOT BROKEN.

    • ratbag

      Yes pitiful and dangerous drivers without consideration for others. Leave no margin for error. Passing another car before they finish pulling into the right lane…. that’s rude, stupid and dangerous.

  • DukeGanote

    In 2012, autobahns carried 31% of motorized Germany’s road traffic while accounting for 11% of traffic deaths. So the rate of 1.7 fatalities per billion-travel-kilometers compared favorably with the 5.1 rate on urban streets and 7.6 rate on rural roads. Unsurprising: in every country the primary causes of crashes are intersections, opposing traffic, sharp curves and roadside hazards such as trees — all dangers “designed out” of interstates, autobahns, motorways, autostrada, etc. Germany just acknowledges that these roads are for fast travel rather than exploiting motorists for easy revenue.

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