In Germany, taking the train or bus is a very common method of travel. There are trains everywhere and when I was in Germany this was how I got around. But for those that want to drive a vehicle here are some tips and advice – especially if you want to check out the autobahn.
It used to be that if you wanted to rent a car in Germany, you were better off booking with a firm in the US before even going to Germany. This way you would get a better rate and be paying in US dollars. But today, you can book your car in Germany and your card company automatically converts to the equivalent US currency. Most of the major US and European car rental agencies are also in Germany such as Avis, Hertz, Budget, etc. You should also book at least two weeks before your planned vacation.
You will need your driver’s license and passport. It’s also a good idea to use a credit card to pay for the rental because most credit card companies automatically cover your insurance deductible in case of an accident.
Most European cars have manual transmissions and not automatic. If you want an automatic, you will want to make sure you specify this. When driving, make sure the rental car has a green insurance certificate. If you are stopped by the police or have an accident, you will need this card. Every rental car should have one.
You have to be at least 18 years old to drive in Germany. The traffic drives on the right and passes on the left just as it is done here. Their seat belt and car seat laws are also the same as here. While driving you are supposed to leave your car doors unlocked in the event of an accident. All vehicles are to be equipped with a first aid kit and carry a warning triangle (Warndreieck).
If you should ever be stopped by a police officer, and they want you to pay the fine on the spot – do it. In Germany, this is how most traffic offenses are paid. If you don’t have enough cash on hand, you risk getting your car impounded.
Cameras for catching speeding cars and traffic offenders are used all over the place in Germany – more so than you see here. If one of these cameras catch you, the ticket will be mailed to the registered owner of the vehicle. If you are using a rental car, the ticket will go to the rental agency, but they will turn around and report you as the driver in which the ticket is then forwarded to you.
Police also drive in unmarked vehicles with cameras mounted on the front and back. If you get caught speeding by one of these unmarked vehicles, you will most likely be signaled to pull over. The way they signal you is by holding a white stick out the window with a red bull’s eye on it. So if you see this, don’t just laugh and think Germany has weird people, you are being pulled over!
The autobahn is something everyone talks about. I remember one time as my 12 year old daughter was in Germany she called me to tell me she was on the autobahn with my uncle. She was so excited and was telling me how much fun she was having. Then when she told me they were driving in excess of 100mph I about fell over. I think I made a few calls to her later on that day just to make sure she was safe and off the autobahn!
Not all areas of the autobahn have no speed limit. In areas where there are curves or residential areas, you will sometimes see speed limits posted. In the areas where there are no speed limits, they do post “advisory limits” which are usually up to 130km/h. Should you go over this limit and are involved in an accident you may be responsible for any damage even if you are not at fault. Should you have an accident or your car breaks down, emergency telephones are along the side the road spaced about 2km apart.
Even with the high speeds on the autobahn, the accident rates are surprisingly low. About 1/3 of Germany’s traffic uses the autobahn, yet the autobahn only accounts for 6% of all accidents. Some of the reasons for this are:
- The roads are constructed much better than in the USA. They are thicker, last longer and are maintained constantly. You don’t see potholes on the autobahn.
- There are no curves in the roads that can’t be handled at high speeds.
- The left lane is ONLY used for passing. You can get a ticket if you are seen passing cars in the right lane.
- The cars that are made in Germany are specifically designed to run at high speeds and by popular opinion, built better than the cars in the USA.
Should you ever drive on the autobahn, you’ll also enjoy scenic views as the autobahn was built along some of the most beautiful areas of Germany.