A favorite saying about Germany is, "There is lots
to see here." There are castles, palaces, scenic roads, historical
cities, towns and villages; and most can be easily seen from your car.
There are also, however, a many rules and regulations to be observed when
driving in Germany.
At first glance, when riding on the Germany freeway
(or Autobahn) you will witness BMWs, late model Mercedes, Porsches and
countless other sporty automobiles moving at what looks like the speed
of light. Many newcomers, when questioned about the excessive speed used
by drivers on the German Autobahn, can only shake their head in amazement,
while saying, "They go by you so fast, you feel like you’re standing
Rule Nr. 1: Be in possession of a valid drivers
license. Usually, foreigners can drive up to one year in Germany before
having to get a German license. There is a small fee involved for the
translation, but this cost varies as to the origin of the license. There
are also certain other requirements. (Learn more about this at the end
of the article.)
Rule Nr. 2: Learn the signs and signals. Germany has some forty different warning signals; forty-one prescriptive
signs (STOP, directional, informative, etc.); forty-three traffic control
devices; thirty-nine additional signs (passenger cars excluded, stop after
. . . meters, and no stopping on carriageway or shoulder, to name a few).
Then there are those Special Signs: Danger!, Rabies! and so on; and last
but not least, there are forty-two Informative Signs telling you such
things as: Priority at next intersection, Priority road, and Parking on
pavement . Many of the signs and signals are self explanatory, and familiar,
while others can lead to confusion and, perhaps, a serious accident if
you fail to take the necessary time to learn what they mean.
Once you have your license requirements taken
care of and you know the signs—and the signals, you have to take care
of the matters involving your car. Whether you’ve brought a car with,
or you intend to buy a car in Germany, registration, insurance and inspection
are required. (If you’re going to buy a car here there won’t be a problem,
unless you’re looking for something extra special. Car dealerships, new
and used, are as plentiful as sand on the beach around Germany. Also,
a number of manufacturers like Volvo and BMW offer special programs for
tourists, expats and diplomats.) What might prove to be a more difficult
task, is being able to afford your dream car and its required insurance
premium, which varies with motor, speed, type (i.e., convertible), model
and year (i.e., late model Porsche verses brand new Fiat Bravo).
Rule Nr. 3: Insurance! Your car must be
insured before it can hit the pavement. Car insurance in Germany is as
important as car inspections and proof of insurance must be shown, just
like your proof of inspection, before your car can be registered. The
traditional Doppelkarte (Double card) can be obtained at any insurance
office, and there are just as many of these as there are car dealers throughout
Germany. You’ll find several insurance offices located near or around
the Zulassungsstelle (Auto Registration Office). In the city of
Frankfurt am Main, Germany, the registration office and (ASU or TÜV) inspection stations just happen to be located together and
are literally surrounded by insurance agents. All of whom are ready and
willing to sell any unsuspecting owner more insurance than they probably
need. (But isn’t this the way of most insurance agents?)
In Germany, Haftpflichtversicherung (liability
Insurance) on your automobile is required. VollKaskoversicherung (comprehensive collision insurance) is required on cars that are financed..
Shop around. Get the insurance that best serves your needs because, in
Germany, it pays to be covered.
Lets forge ahead and say you’ve located your dream-mobile,
gotten insurance and you’re now ready to put the pedal to the metal. Only,
you can’t just yet. At least not before we discuss
Rule Nr. 4: Register your car before driving
it in Germany.
The German government is adamant in their efforts
to make sure that every vehicle, whether in use for private or public
transportation, is road-worthy. Therefore, your car must passe a series
of rigorous inspections before registration. For this, a visit to the Technische Überwachung
Verein (TÜV) or to an authorized TÜV mechanic will make
sure your car is in its best condition or that it meets the high standards
specified by the authorities.
The TÜV Inspection is automatically granted
to new cars for a three year period. The inspection is usually arranged
by the auto dealer. All you, the new car owner, have to do is pay the
inspection cost. Perhaps, if you purchase a really expensive car the dealership
may absorb the inspection cost as one of the perks. When purchasing a
used car however, the TÜV inspection is the sole responsibility
of the prospective owner.
Now would be a good time to discuss the Abgassonderuntersuchung (ASU) or Abgasuntersuchung (AU) Inspections (checking the
catalytic converter). Today most vehicles are manufactured with catalytic
converters; but this wasn’t always the case, which is why there are two
types of inspections: 1.) The ASU Inspection is for cars manufactured
without catalytic converters. The inspection is good for 1 year and cost
up to 46.00 Marks. 2.) The AU Inspection (also sometimes referred
to as the ASU Inspection) is for cars manufactured with converters. This
inspection (like the TÜV Inspection for new cars) is good for 3
years, but all used cars must be inspected every 2 years and the inspection
cost is 80.00 Marks. Not withstanding, manufactured with or without a
catalytic converter, both inspections (ASU and TÜV) must
be completed before your car can be registered. Failure to adhere to the
rules and regulations governing these inspections or failure to meet inspection
dates can result in stiff penalties, which may vary depending on how long
overdue the inspection is.
After the inspection is complete registration
is done at the Zulassungstelle. When registering your vehicle you must
present your Double Insurance Card, showing insurance protection or that
you are registered with an insurance agency. You don’t have to show proof
of ownership when you have your car inspected, but you must show proof
of insurance when registering
Ready! You got your license, insurance, inspections
and registration. Its time to hit the road! As we said in the beginning
of this article, cruising down the Autobahn can be fun but it can also
be hectic and fast. The Autobahn has come far from the start of its humble
beginning. When Adolf Hitler first came up with the idea it was called
the Schnellstrasse. The Schnellstrasse was intended to be an easy
way for Hitler to move his troops from one end of the country to the next.
Today the Autobahn (or Schnellstrasse) is used not only to transport
military troops but also by neighboring countries as a passageway to import
and export produce and products; while, at the same time countless vacationers
use it to connect the east with the west (and vice versa).
Rule Nr. 5: Remember the Rules. Traffic
laws that govern driving through the city differ somewhat from those on
the Autobahn. For instance, passing on the right on a two lane street,
avenue or boulevard, in the city is perfectly legal; whereas, passing
on the right on the Autobahn is absolutely illegal and punishable by fine
or revocation of driving privileges. Of course, the severity of the punishment
depends largely on the degree of danger or threat of danger to others.
Tailgating or flashing your headlights as you zoom up behind someone you
feel would be better off walking to where they’re trying to drive, is
also illegal. So are certain gestures involving your hands and fingers
(you all know what we mean) or making circling motions in your temple
area with your pointing finger (to most Germans this gesture is the same
as calling them insane). Road rage. It happens a lot in Germany, so try
to avoid infuriating other drivers by allowing them to pass when they
show signs of wanting to, or not cutting quickly in front of another car
or stepping on your brakes too hard to try to get someone off your tail.
Sometimes the simple act of driving the speed limit is enough to cause
some drivers to throw a fit and not all drivers are content with raging
inside their vehicles, some step out and expect to engage in a physical
show of emotion. Remember: Hand gestures, name calling, horn honking,
tailgating and flashing headlights are not welcome nor tolerated in Germany.
And yet, it can be fun to open ole Bessy up on
a warm spring afternoon or under the clear blue skies of a hot summer
day if you just remember to be courteous and follow the rules. But if
you should forget, there are speed traps: video equipped unmarked police
cars, cameras and now the renown Radar Gun. In unmarked video cars police
will sometimes follow a violator, tracking their hazardous or reckless
driving pattern, video taping and clocking the drivers speed. (In a recent
television show it was reported that up to two hundred violaters a day
have their licenses pulled after being caught by these unmarked patrol
cars.) Cameras positioned at street lights photograph drivers as they
speed through an intersection or run a red light. The photo is usually
a frontal view, leaving little room for denial about who was driving at
the time of the violation. To add to the German drivers woes, the German
police have imported the Radar Gun from America where it is reported to
be one of the best devices yet for catching speed demons. Excessive speed
in Germany doesn’t just dig deep into your pockets but it also levies
points against your license, which in turn can affect your insurance payments;
and, depending on how much over the speed limit you were driving or how
many points you’ve accumulated, you could lose your driving privileges
for several months.
Statistical reports attribute the majority of
accidents happening on German roadways to excessive speed; especially
during winter and the first days of spring. When you look at Germany,
geographically speaking, you’ll see that it is mostly hills, valleys and
dense forest. Its terrain can change as easily as its weather. One minute
you are traveling down the road, humming to the beat of your favorite
tune, following the rays of the sun, when suddenly you find yourself immersed
in a fog as thick as pea soup. Your vision is considerably limited, and
all within seconds.
Although driving in Germany is faster than in
the States, still, it can be fun; provided you drive defensively; particularly,
during inclement weather.
The objective is to stay alive. Therefore, driving
in Germany may be faster but it doesn’t have to be filled with rage, hostility
and speed. Actually, most German car owners hate to have anything happen
to their car. In fact, the average German lives with an almost paranoiac
fear of having the paint on their car scratched or nicked. Ninety-nine-out-of-one
hundred want their car to be the cleanest and the most admired on the
road. There’s even an old saying that supposedly describes the love of
a German male for his car: "Most German men will fight quicker over
damage to their car than they will for honor of their wives."
Keeping that in mind, you might want to relax,
take your time and enjoy the ride or practice your patience, . . . and
while you’re taking your time, you might want to check out an automobile
club. An automobile club can provide additional automotive protection:
coverage against vandalism, accident, fire and theft; whether in Germany
or while traveling within Europe. A fairly popular club in Germany is
Automobil-Club (ADAC). There are ADAC locations throughout
Germany. The club offers a wide range of services and cost for membership
varies with the type of membership you desire. A regular membership costs
74.00 Marks per year, while an ADAC Plus membership costs 139.00
Marks per year. There are several other memberships: Severely Disabled,
Young Adult or Student and ADAC Associate Membership (37.00 Marks
per year). At ADAC you can get your drivers license translated,
learn about traffic rules and regulations (if you’re not clear about some
of them), you can purchase insurance for you, your family and your car.
You can also receive personalized assistance to plan your next vacation
(this includes everything from booking hotel accommodations to choosing
the quickest or most scenic route to your destination). Emergency banking
can be arranged, hospitalization in case of an accident while traveling
abroad, air rescue service is available and, if you don’t already have
a major credit card you can even apply for one as a member of ADAC.
To learn more about the club and its by-laws and the services it provides,
or if you just want to receive one of their informative English language
brochures, call their international European number: (0180) 510 11 12.
MapQuest - MapQuest Tools include maps, driving directions, and road trip planner.
Includes both North American and European countries.
Machine -- National Geographic
Falk online - Route planning (In German). Can search for specific locations in &
within a town.
Driving In Austria