How to Drive on the German Autobahn



One of the most fun aspects of living in Germany is driving on the autobahn. You can drive pretty fast, drivers are really nice and respectful and there aren’t potholes everywhere like there are in Detroit.

What you might not know is that autobahn in German translates directly to highway and that there are actually speed limits and construction in most areas. And actually, Vinn and I have both gotten speeding tickets for driving too fast. Oops.

Driving on the autobahn is essentially the same as driving in America. There are usually three lanes, you’re supposed to use your turn signal and the left lane is considered the passing lane. German drivers are, however, very polite. No one uses their horn. Everyone will let you in when you’re merging and will move out of the way if they want to drive faster than you.

Vinn drives to work everyday, I drive with him Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Thursdays and we drive throughout Europe for vacations. So yesterday I took some pictures during our drive and thought I’d show you what it’s like to drive on the autobahn and some tips on how to survive it!

The speed limit signs are on the side of the road and overhead

Surviving a drive on the German autobahn

In the above photo, the speed limit is 120 kph, which is about 74 mph. This is the standard speed limit throughout southern Germany and is a nice pace. It’s face enough to feel like you’re getting somewhere but slow enough that your knuckles don’t turn white on the steering wheel.

One thing to note about speed limits is that they change without much warning. In our twenty minute drive to work, the speed limit will be 120 kph for the majority of it, but then we hit this one city and the speed limit goes down to 100 kph. You have to always be paying attention to the signs because there are cameras that snap your license plate if you’re going just 5 kph over the limit.

No speed limit = Thunder Road

Surviving the Autobahn where there's no speed limit

Many areas of the German autobahn are free of speed limits. When you see the sign above with the lines through it, you can drive as fast as you want.

I think Vinn has topped 160 or 180 kph, or topped at about 110 mph. You definitely feel it and you definitely feel like you’re flying or part of a Nascar race. The craziest part is that there are always people who will want to drive faster. I can’t tell you the amount of times there’s been some Mercedes or Porsche (we live where both brands are headquartered, so they are everywhere) zipping by and you feel your car is moving because the other car is going so fast!

Construction is everywhere

Construction is absolutely everywhere because Germans take immense pride in how their roads are maintained. And coming from Detroit where you can’t drive over 50 mph because your tire might blow from all the pot holes, it’s been quite a welcome change. There are even over head signs alerting you to upcoming construction with an icon of road maintenance. And in a construction zone, the speed limit dips to 60 kph.

Do NOT use your middle finger

Fun fact: it is illegal to use your middle finger in anger, especially while driving. It is not allowed in all aspects of life but not using it in the car is surprisingly difficult. I’m not the type of driver to throw my finger out the window, but there are times, like when someone cuts you off, when it just feels better to flip them the bird, even if you’re the only one seeing it. Resist temptations in Germany, though. It could get you a large ticket.

Use your flashing lights

When you hit a traffic jam, or stau, and you see lots of brake lights, everyone turns on their flashing lights as they brake. I hate it because I feel like when you’re hitting the brake and then simultaneously hitting your hazard lights, you are focused on hitting the button and not slowing down. That’s just me. You will notice that everyone does it as another way to show other drivers that you’re really braking and they should be on the look out.

Moral of the story, driving on the autobahn is fun, but you have to pay extra attention because you never know who is going to be driving like a bat out of hell. The autobahn isn’t exactly like a James Bond movie but if you ever vacation in Germany, it is something that you should do!

Are there any interesting driving laws where you live?

How to drive on the Autobahn in Germany, What to Know

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