Brian's Guide to
Getting Around Germany

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Roads and Driving
Rules of the Road

This page last updated July 5, 2024

Below is an overview of the important points of the German traffic code based on my interpretation of the current Straßenverkehrs-Ordnung (Road Traffic Ordinances), what I have read on other sites, as well as contributions by readers.

On this page:


Probably the most important section for foreigners is the right-of-way discussion.
When you're done here, you can test your knowledge on this page!



The minimum age to drive in Germany in 18. If you are visiting Germany and will not be establishing residency, then your own driver's license from your home country, state, or province is valid in Germany for as long as you're there. If you will be establishing residency in Germany, your driver's license is valid for six months from the date when permanent residency is established, which in practice is generally assumed to be the date you enter the country. You will have to obtain a German driver's license in order to continue driving after that six month grace period expires. If your residency will be for longer than six months but less than one year (and you can legally prove it), you can obtain a six month extension to use your existing license.

International Driving Permit
There is a bit of confusion and disagreement on whether foreigners need to also have an International Driving Permit (IDP). With recent international agreements on standardizing driver license formats, you generally will no longer need an IDP if your license is in the numbered format; that is, each of the elements of information on your license (name, date of birth, etc.) is numbered, similar to the example below. If so, then that license is accepted in Germany without the need for an IDP. This is because the police know what the numbered attributes on your license correspond to, which was the purpose of the IDP.

If your license does not have those numbers, then you're supposed to carry an official translation of your license in addition to the license itself. This is where IDP comes in. You will need to purchase one in your home country before leaving for Germany. In the US, these are available from AAA for $20 plus two passport photos.

That said, I have found that if you speak German well enough, you can probably get by without an IDP and, should you get into a situation where you need to have your license translated, you can get one from the ADAC automobile club for about €40. If you're unsure or just want to be safe, my recommendation is to get an IDP before you go.

It's important to keep in mind that an IDP does not replace your official driver's license — it is just a translation of it in an internationally recognized format. You must carry your official license with your IDP in order for it to be valid.

US driver's license with numbered elements

Example US driver's license with numbered elements

If you will be living in Germany
If you will be in stationed in Germany with the US military, you will need to obtain a driver's license issued by the US Armed Forces. See the USAREUR driver's handbook at, then come back here for a supplemental guide!

If you are not affiliated with the US military and are going to be living in Germany longer than one year, you will need to get a German Driver's License (Führerschein) If you have a valid license in your home country and have not lived in Germany for more than three years, you may be able to convert your existing license. The process starts with a visit to the local traffic office (Straßenverkehrsamt). What happens next will depend on where you hail from. Germany has reciprocal agreements with many countries and US states allowing driver's licenses to be converted. If you're lucky, you may have to do nothing more than fill-out some paperwork (although after you finally finish all the required forms, you may wonder just how lucky you really are!) If not, you may still get off only having to take the written test. Otherwise, you'll have to go through the whole testing procedure, just like the Germans do. Note, though, that when a conversion is possible, only holders of non-commercial vehicle licenses can convert their existing license to a German license.

If your license was issued in one of the following US states, you can convert your license to a German license without any testing: Alabama, Arizona, Arkansas, Colorado, Delaware, Idaho, Illinois, Iowa, Kansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, New Mexico, Ohio, Oklahoma, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, South Dakota, Texas, Utah, Virginia, West Virginia, Washington (state), Wisconsin, Wyoming, and Puerto Rico.

Licenses from these US states require the applicant to take just the written test: Connecticut, District of Columbia, Florida, Indiana, Minnesota, Mississippi, Missouri, Nebraska, North Carolina, Oregon, and Tennessee.

For a complete and current list of all US states, Canadian provinces, and other countries with reciprocal license agreements, see the sites listed in the links section at the bottom of this page.

Conversion of licenses from all other US states will require you to take both the written and practical (road) tests. In all cases, you will have to take a vision test, which is usually administered by a commercial eye doctor (at your own expense, of course.) You may also be required to take a first-aid class.

If you can convert your license without testing, simply complete the required paperwork and submit it. If you have to take the written tests, it will be given at the traffic office. The test consists of sections covering laws, signs, vocabulary, theory, and energy conservation. To prepare for the test, you can study this site and/or take a course at a German driving school (Fahrschule). Be wary, though — you just want the short laws and signs class, not the full driving course. The latter course currently costs around €1,500 and consists of 25-45 hours of instruction, including 12 hours of theory, and oodles of practical experience including night and Autobahn driving. Make sure you ask for the special class for new residents. If a school tells you they don't offer it, find one that does.

If you have to take the practical on-the-road test, it will be conducted by a driving school (not at the traffic office as is often the case in the US) and will last about an hour. It will most likely include a short trip on the Autobahn. If you need practice, most driving schools offer short courses to prepare for the practical test as well. Once you pass these tests, you will take the paperwork to the traffic office where you will be awarded a German driver's license valid for the rest of your life!

German driver's license

German driver's license

General laws and enforcement

The basic premise of German traffic law is the "doctrine of confidence", which in effect says that motorists must be alert, know nad obey the law, and drive defensively at all times so that all motorists and other road users (including pedestrians) can have confidence in each other. Motorists must be especially alert for and anticipate the actions of elderly or disabled pedestrians or children, all of whom are exempt from the doctrine of confidence. All road users must act to prevent endangering, hindering, and unreasonably inconveniencing other road users.

Traffic in Germany and all of continental Europe drives on the right side of the road (not on the left, as many Americans think.)

Safety equipment
Seatbelts must be worn by all passengers. Children under 12 years old or shorter than 150 cm may not sit in the front seat unless they are in an approved child safety seat and there is no room in the back seat (or there is no back seat.) However, you may not use a child safety seat in the front seat if there is an active airbag.

Always lock your vehicle and take the keys whenever you leave it. You should leave your doors unlocked while driving to facilitate rescue in an accident.

It is illegal to drive with your parking lights only; you must use your headlights at night and during inclement weather.

Motorcyclists and moped riders must ride with helmets and headlights on at all times.

Vehicles must carry a warning triangle (Warndreieck), safety vest (Warnweste), and a super-duper highway first aid kit (Pkw-Verbandkasten) in which I defy you to find a simple band-aid. Germany does not require a fire extinguisher (Feuerlöscher) to be carried, but it's not a bad idea to have one anyway.

In the event your vehicle becomes disabled due to a breakdown or crash, you are required to turn on your hazard flashers (Warnblinklicht) and place your warning triangle 100 meters behind your vehicle (200 meters on the Autobahn), although I rarely see anyone actually put it that far back.

Drivers must have third-party liability insurance and must carry proof of that insurance ("green card", Versicherungskarte) as well as proof of ownership (Fahrzeugschein, Zulassungsbescheinigung) at all times.

Most moving-violation enforcement in Germany is done via enforcement cameras. Permanent and temporary cameras — both automated and manually-operated — are used to catch speeders, red-light violators, and tailgaters. Sometimes an obscure sign like the one below will warn you of the existence of such a camera, but it might be too late by the time you see it.

Enforcement camera sign

Enforcement camera sign
(Photo by Brian Purcell)

Citations for violations caught by enforcement cameras are mailed to the registered owner of the vehicle within a few weeks. If you're driving a rental car, the ticket will go to the rental agency. They, in turn, will report you to the police as the driver of the vehicle (and likely charge you a non-trivial administrative fee to do it) and the ticket will be forwarded to you, although authorities sometimes drop cases against non-EU residents. An interesting footnote about automated enforcement: the police stopped sending a copy of the photo a while back when several spouses discovered cases of infidelity when they opened the violation notice. Now, you have to go to the police station yourself to see the photo and contest it if you so desire. Such an effort is usually fruitless, though.

Police "lollypop"Some enforcement is still done the old-fashioned way with police using both marked and unmarked vehicles looking for violations. If you get busted, the police vehicle will typically pass you and then you'll be signaled to pull over by a "lollypop" traffic paddle (Anhaltekelle, see picture to the left) being held out of the window of the police vehicle and/or by a flashing sign on the back of the vehicle reading "Polizei — bitte folgen" ("police — please follow".) If this happens, reduce speed and follow the police vehicle — they'll lead you to a safe place to stop. Then turn off the engine and wait for further instructions from the officers. These vehicles typically have on-board cameras recording constantly and the video is used as evidence if the violation is disputed or if you evade them.

In some cases, instead of being stopped using a vehicle, a police officer on the side of the road will motion for you to pull over. In these cases, a hidden police unit further back observed a violation and radioed your vehicle's description, or it may be a random traffic stop or checkpoint (Verkehrskontrolle) for general safety checks, sobriety checks, or for drug or other criminal activity searches.

German police officers are very professional and typically courteous, so if you are stopped for any reason, remain calm and cooperative and you should be fine. Most police officers speak English, so let them know right way if you do not speak German. Be sure you know where the vehicle registration and insurance card are, especially if you have a rental car (the rental agreement satisfies these requirements.) Also know where the warning triangle, safety vest, and first aid kit are — police often ask to check these during traffic stops. If you are stationed in Germany with the US military, you can ask the officer to contact the nearest US garrison military police if you feel that's necessary.

Fines and penalties
The police are allowed to collect "warning fines" (Verwarnungsgeld) of €5 to €55 for most minor traffic offenses on the spot. If you pay the spot fine, you are essentially pleading guilty to the charge and, once the fine is paid, the matter is considered settled. If you don't have enough cash on hand, you can usually pay with a credit/debit card, and in many cases now, police will not accept cash payments.

If you are unable or unwilling to pay (you have the legal right to do so if you wish to contest it), the police can demand collateral to ensure you will appear in court. Often, this can mean the vehicle or some valuable object in your possession is impounded. In most cases, however, if you live in Germany, you'll probably just be issued a citation to appear in court later, and if you're a foreigner, you may be let off with just a verbal or written warning.

Note that if you refuse to pay the spot fine and go to court, you may be assessed a higher fine (Bußgeld) there, and some fines are based on your income.

You need not fear when paying spot fines — the German police are very professional and corruption is very rare, and you will always be given a receipt for the payment.

Some traffic violations are considered to be felonies and may be punishable by imprisonment if lives or property are endangered. These include driving under the influence of alcohol or drugs, leaving the scene of an accident, illegal passing, U-turns and wrong-way driving or backing-up on the Autobahn, running a red light, failure to yield the right-of-way, and reckless driving including excessive speeding.

Germany operates a point system for driving offenses. Most minor violations accrue one to four points, with more serious violations earning five or more points. Points for minor offenses are expunged after three years; other offenses will remain on the record for five to 10 years depending on the offense. Motorists who exceed four points on their record at any given time can attend a driving safety class to eliminate four points from their record (two points if the total is greater than nine.) Those who accumulate 14 points are required to attend the safety class. They may then voluntarily obtain counseling from a traffic psychologist (yep, there is such a thing) to eliminate two points from their record. Anyone who accumulates 18 or more points will have their license suspended indefinitely. The agency that records traffic points is in the city of Flensburg, so references about the traffic point system often use that name. The US military also has a point system that varies somewhat from the German system.


Germany uses a hierarchical system to assign right-of-way (Vorfahrt, Vorrang) at intersections as follows:

Officers directing traffic may use a black and white striped wand or a traffic paddle ("lollypop", see photo above.)

Police officer Police officer Police officer
Police officer signaling "stop"
Police officer signaling all traffic to stop, be ready for change of control
Police officer signaling "go"

(Images from US military driving manual)

Other right-of-way rules


Speed limits

The speed limit sign is a number inside a red ring Speed limit 80 km/h. Speed limits are shown in kilometers per hour.

There is a set of general or "default" statutory speed limits (Geschwindigkeitbeschränkung, Geschwindigkeitbegrenzung, Tempolimit) that apply in the absence of signs:

  Passenger vehicles Motorcycles Passenger vehicle with trailer
Vehicles over 3.5t Buses
Vehicles over 3.5t with trailer Vehicles over 3.5t
Vehicles over 3.5t
Entering urban area
Within urban areas
50 km/h 50 km/h
Leaving urban area
Outside urban areas
100 km/h 80 km/h 60 km/h
Autobahn Expressway
Autobahns and Expressways
Recommended 130 km/h 80 km/h 80 km/h

Posted speed limits, of course, supersede the statutory limits.

In some cases, buses, trucks, and vehicles towing a trailer may be exempt from the general limit for their vehicle class. In this case, they will have a decal resembling a speed limit sign Allowed speed limit decal displayed on the back of their vehicle indicating the speed they are authorized to travel.

Beware of "speed limit zone" sign Speed zone. These indicate the speed limit for an entire neighborhood, and the speed limit on the sign remains in effect on all streets beyond this sign until you pass an "end of speed limit zone" sign End of speed zone.

Here are a few other points about speed limit signs to be aware of:

Other speed limits


Passing or overtaking is prohibited in the following situations:

When passing another vehicle:

Drivers being overtaken must allow plenty of space for the passing vehicle to complete their maneuver and must slow down to accomplish this if necessary. It is illegal (and stupid, frankly) to speed-up to prevent being passed.

Passing on the right is prohibited except on multilane roads (including the Autobahn) when traffic in the left lane is stopped or is moving at less than 60 km/h. In those cases, traffic in the right lane may not exceed 80 km/h. Passing on the right is also allowed on roads controlled by traffic signals, although in practice traffic is typically traveling at less than 60 km/h in those cases anyway.

On roads where passing is difficult or not allowed, slower traffic is required to pull over when possible to allow faster traffic to go by (waysides or pull-outs are sometimes provided for this purpose.)

When passing cyclists, e-scooters, or pedestrians, drivers must maintain a buffer of 1.5 meters in built-up areas and 2 meters outside built-up areas.

Drinking and driving

The penalties for driving under the influence in Germany are harsh. Severe penalties are assessed to first time offenders, usually including the suspension of your license. The blood-alcohol limit for most drivers is 0.05%. For drivers who commit a moving violation or are involved in a crash, the limit drops to 0.03%. For drivers under 21 and drivers with less than two years experience, the limit is 0.00%. The limit for bicyclists is 0.16%. If you are involved in a crash, the courts may determine whether alcohol was a factor even if your blood alcohol content is below the limit.

With the high alcohol content of German adult beverages, it doesn't take long to hit the limit. The best advice is this: if you drink AT ALL, don't drive! Don't forget that driving under the influence of drugs (prescription or recreational) is also illegal.

Parking regulations

In Germany, you are considered "parked" if you leave your vehicle or if you stop/stand for longer than 3 minutes unless you are actively boarding or discharging passengers or loading or unloading cargo.

You may not park:

You may not stop or stand (which includes parking):

Except where prohibited (see above), on-street parking is generally permitted. When you park, there must be a gap of a least 3 meters between your vehicle and the middle of the street or the nearest lane line. In many places, you may park partially or entirely on the sidewalk to fulfill this requirement, but look for signs permitting this Parking on sidewalk allowed (or other vehicles doing so) before you do it. If you do, make sure there is sufficient room for pedestrians on the sidewalk. Vehicles over 2.8t may not park on the sidewalk.

You must park on the right side of the street unless:

You may not park, stop, or stand in a traffic lane if there is a shoulder or parking lane unless, of course, you are stopping to comply with a traffic sign or signal or due to congestion.

When parking on a street at night, you must use your parking lights unless you are parked near an all-night streetlight. Streetlights that do not remain on for the entire night are marked by a white and red band Streetlamp does not remain on all night around the lamppost.

The "parking area" sign Parking indicates where parking is permitted on streets or gives directions to an off-street parking facility. When used to mark on-street parking, it is usually accompanied by additional signs indicating when parking is permitted, who is permitted to park, or that the use of a parking permit, voucher, or disc is required. For more information on finding parking in cities and using parking facilities, see the Driving and Parking in German Cities page.

Parking control zones
The "parking restriction zone" sign Parking restriction zone indicates the entrance to an area or neighborhood where there is a general parking restriction. All streets beyond this sign are included in this restriction until you pass an "end of parking restriction zone" sign End of parking restriction zone.

The "parking management zone" sign Parking management zone indicates the entrance to an area or neighborhood where parking is permitted on all streets in the area with the use of a parking disc or voucher as indicated by a supplemental sign. The requirements apply to all streets beyond this sign until you pass an "end of parking management zone" sign End of parking management zone.

Parking vouchers, discs, and meters
Signage for on-street parking may require you to use a voucher, disc, or meter that limits the length of time you may park. See the Driving and Parking in German Cities page for information on using each of these systems.

Parking fines range from €10 to €110. If you are obstructing traffic or a driveway, your vehicle will, with great Teutonic efficiency, almost surely become the temporary property of the police. In such an event, you will have to pay a towing charge in addition to the fine; contact the police to settle the situation.

Urban traffic regulations

The "entering urban area" sign Entering urban area marks the entrance to a built-up area. Upon passing this sign, several special traffic regulations go into effect:

The "leaving urban area" sign Leaving urban area indicates that you are leaving a built-up area and its associated traffic regulations. The following general regulations apply:

Traffic calming zones

Traffic calming zones (Verkehrsberuhigtezone) are usually implemented on small residential streets. The start of a traffic calming zone is marked by the "traffic calming zone" sign Traffic calming zone and the "end of traffic calming zone" sign End of traffic calming zone marks the exit from such a zone. Within traffic calming zones, the following rules apply:

Bicycle lanes, streets, and zones

Bicycle lanes (Fahrradspur) are present on many urban streets. They can be marked with either a solid line or broken line. When marked with a solid line, motor vehicles may not drive or park in the lane, and may only turn across the lane to access driveways or parking spaces and must yield to bicycles in the lane when doing so. When a broken line is used, motorists may drive in the bike lane when necessary to pass oncoming traffic, and may park in the lane briefly to make deliveries.

Bicycle streets (Fahrradstraße) and zones (Fahrradzone) are the latest trend in traffic calming in Germany.

The entrance or beginning of a bicycle street is marked by the "bicycle street" sign Bicycle street and the exit or end is marked by the "end bicycle street" sign End bicycle street. These are typically smaller residential streets that provide connectivity between major roadways for cyclists. In many cases, supplemental signs indicate that motor vehicles are also allowed on these streets, although frequently only in one direction (whereas bicycles can travel in both directions.)

The following rules apply on bicycle streets:

The bicycle street concept is expanded to an entire neighborhood with the "bicycle zone" sign Bicycle street. The same rules as a bicycle street apply on all streets beyond this sign until the "end of bicycle zone" sign Bicycle street is reached.

Autobahn traffic regulations

Special rules apply when driving on the Autobahn. These are listed on the Autobahn page.

Additional prohibitions


If the unfortunate should happen and you should be involved in a collision, the steps to take are basically similar to those in the US and most other places. Here's a list of what you should do:

Other sites of interest

Official Straßenverkehrs-Ordnung
Traffic violation penalty catalog
List of US states and Canadian provinces with reciprocal license agreements (US states only)
List of other countries with reciprocal license agreements
US military driver's handbook for Germany