Road rules in Germany
Documentation and equipment
The minimum driving age is 18. U.S. Forces personnel and their dependents must have a valid U.S. Forces Certificate of License (USAREUR) and valid U.S. driver’s license, proof of insurance and vehicle registration or a letter of permission from the owner.
Vehicles should carry a reflective vest, warning triangle and first aid kit. Both vest and triangle should be used any time you have stopped your car and are outside of the vehicle along a roadway. During winter months vehicles or motorcycles must have winter or all-season tires.
“Doctrine of Confidence”
Germans expect each other to be confident drivers, who obey traffic laws, are alert and drive defensively at all times. By doing so, this “doctrine of confidence” allows both drivers and pedestrians to have confidence in one another, knowing that all are constantly maintaining the responsibility of being safe. For this reason, German drivers and roadways are some of the safest in the world. By signing for your USAREUR license, you also agree to be a confident driver at all times.
Speeds & regulations
Don’t be fooled by the rumors that there are no speed limits in Germany. Although some stretches of autobahn have no limit zones, speed is indeed regulated, and quite effectively, with speed cameras that can catch your speed way past 100 miles per hour. So if you decide to push your limit in the marked speed zones, be warned. Your mailbox may soon fill up with letters showing a photo of you, your license and a request to pay several euros. Drive the speed that is marked and know the speed zone limits. Unless otherwise indicated, the speed limit is 50km/h (31mph) in urban areas and 100 km/h (62mph) outside city limits. On the autobahn, the recommended speed limit is 130km/h (80mph), unless otherwise posted. Driving too slow is also illegal and dangerous because you create an obstacle. The minimum speed you must travel on the autobahn unless posted is 60km/h (37mph). You will also be subject to fines and possibly asked to leave the roadway.
In most countries in Europe, you drive on the right and pass on the left. Never pass on the right. It can be very dangerous and in the least will definitely get you a fist shake by an angry driver. The left lane should be used for passing only; be cautious of staying there too long as fast drivers will quickly approach from behind and indicate with a left blinker (or flashing lights and a horn, though that is supposed to be illegal) that they want to pass you. Quickly make sure the lane to your right is clear, move over and let them zoom past.
Right of way, right on red
In the flow of traffic, at unmarked intersections and traffic circles, those on the right have right of way unless stated on signs. Possibly the hardest rules of the road to understand are those that pertain to right of way. Remember that those on right have right of way unless it’s marked with special signs or lights. It might be good to continue to study that section of your driver’s manual for a while after getting your USAREUR license.
Turning right on red is illegal and dangerous because drivers don’t expect you to do so (remember the “Doctrine of Confidence” rule) and may hit you. There is one exception; if your lane has a specially marked light with a green arrow attached to the right of the light, pointing right. Then, you may come to a complete stop and may turn only if oncoming traffic is clear to do so.
Not only is it illegal in just about all countries in Europe, it’s just flat out dangerous to use your cellphone while driving. Unless you have a hands-free device, pull off of the roadway, stop and turn off the vehicle before using the phone. Or, turn it on silent and put it away.
Drinking & driving
In Germany, the legal blood alcohol limit when operating a vehicle is anything under 0.05. However, just a couple of German beers can put you over that limit. If caught, you face severe fines, possible imprisonment, loss of driving privileges, and an Article 15 of the UCMJ and damage to your military career. And, even if you are under the legal limit, if you are in an auto accident after drinking, you may be found at fault even if you did not actually cause the wreck. Any way you look at it, drinking alcohol and then operating a vehicle is a bad decision.
Radar detection on electronic devices
Radar detectors are illegal in most European countries, and now several countries, including Germany, are banning GPS navigational devices that have speed camera detection software. If you’re caught with a device with this function in your car (even turned off), you can be fined and have your device confiscated. Some GPS maps can now be updated without this function.