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Driving on the Autobahn

The German Autobahn

The Autobahn in Germany is world-famous for its de-restricted high-speed zones; it is one of the few places in the world where you can drive your vehicle as fast as you like. Even on the Autobahn, there are rules, and the unrestricted zones make up only about half of the country’s overall network.

So before you pack your bags and head over to Europe, here’s everything you need to know about driving on the German Autobahn.

A Brief History of the Autobahn Network

The entire German Autobahn network stretches over 12,000 kilometers (7,200 miles), making it the third largest highway and road system globally, following the United States and China. However, no official stats document the exact mileage of unrestricted sections of the Autobahn, but it is thought to be approximately 50% of the road network there.

The Autobahn network started development in the 1920s, inspired by the Italian Autostrada. But it was Hitler’s Germany that formed the foundations of the Autobahn we know today during the 1930s as Germany looked to build its way out of the great depression. Development was accelerated during World War 2, with about 3800 kilometers completed.

Germany had grand plans, hoping to complete 20,000 kilometers in the 1940s. However, when the war ended in 1945, much of the Autobahn was destroyed. It was quickly recognized that the Autobahn would be essential for Germany’s recovery from World War 2.

During the Cold War in the 1960s and 1970s, the West Germany motorway network grew rapidly. In 1990, when unification with Eastern Germany took place, the Eastern network was modernized to create the Autobahn we know today.

Seven Rules for Driving on the Autobahn

Despite the promise to most drivers of no speed limits, Autobahn rules do apply, and it’s important to remember that German law is strict on motorway driving on the autobahn. Faster motorways also create unique challenges to traffic flow, and any new user of Autobahn driving may struggle at first.

#1: Speed Limits Do Apply!

While driving on the Autobahn, which is renowned for having no strict speed limits on specific stretches, it’s crucial to remember that speed restrictions do apply, particularly in urban areas, construction zones, and regions with challenging terrain. Germany boasts an extensive network of variable speed limits across its Autobahn system, with these speed controls taking precedence over any posted signs.

In certain segments, there’s a top speed of 130 km/h, while non-urban areas typically have limits around 100 km/h, and within towns and cities, the top speed is usually set at 50 km/h. Interestingly, Germany also enforces minimum speed restrictions in select areas. As per the RAC, on a six-lane highway, the minimum speed for the fast lane is 110 km/h, for the middle lane, it’s 90 km/h, and for the slow lane, it’s 60 km/h. If a vehicle cannot maintain these speeds on level ground, it is prohibited from accessing motorways in Germany.

It’s crucial to note that even on sections of rural roads where no posted limits are present, driving at excessively high speeds can pose significant dangers and is generally discouraged, particularly in less-than-optimal driving conditions.

#2: Left Lane and Passing:

German drivers adhere to a “keep right, pass left” rule on the Autobahn. This means that slower traffic should stay in the right lane while the left-hand lane is reserved for passing. If you’re driving a rental car or are not familiar with high-speed driving, it’s advisable to stick to the right lane except when overtaking. As in most European countries, undertaking, passing on the right lane is illegal in Germany.

#3: Lane Discipline and Changing Lanes:

Maintaining lane discipline is crucial for smooth traffic flow and safety on the Autobahn. Use your indicators (blinkers) and rear-view mirror when changing lanes, then check your mirrors again. Be aware of other drivers around you; it’s not uncommon for drivers to zoom past. Look out for high-speed drivers in your left mirror, and remember that sudden lane changes, especially at high speeds, can be hazardous.

#4: Emergency Vehicles and Emergency Lanes:

When driving on the Autobahn, it’s crucial to understand and adhere to the concept of the “Rettungsgasse” or emergency vehicle lane. According to German and Austrian traffic regulations, drivers must promptly form a Rettungsgasse or emergency lane whenever traffic congestion occurs on the autobahn due to an accident or any other emergency requiring the presence of ambulances, fire trucks, police, or other emergency response vehicles. This proactive measure ensures swift access for emergency services to reach the scene without delay.

In situations where there are only two lanes in each direction, drivers are mandated to move their vehicles to the far right and far left, effectively creating an open lane in the middle for the passage of emergency vehicles. Conversely, if the autobahn comprises more than two lanes, drivers in the right-side lanes should remain positioned far to the right, while those in the third or fourth left lane ought to stay on the far left. It’s imperative to note that the far-right emergency parking lane must not be obstructed unless specific signage or direction from a police official indicates otherwise.

Remaining vigilant for the presence of first responders is paramount when traversing the Autobahn. In the event of encountering a traffic jam or an accident, swiftly make way for emergency vehicles by promptly moving to the side and allowing them to pass unhindered. It’s essential to refrain from utilizing emergency lanes unless faced with a genuine emergency, as these lanes are exclusively reserved for authorized vehicles, ensuring efficient emergency response and the safety of all road users.

#5: Expect Traffic Jams and Heavy Traffic:

While the Autobahn is known for its efficiency, it’s not immune to traffic congestion, especially during peak hours and in urban areas. The busiest sections of the Autobahn tend to be those passing through major cities, densely populated areas, and popular tourist destinations. Some of the busiest stretches include:

  • A3 (Cologne to Frankfurt): This section connects two major cities and is a crucial route for both commuters and freight transportation, resulting in heavy traffic volumes.
  • A5 (Frankfurt to Karlsruhe): This autobahn passes through the Rhine-Main region and experiences significant congestion, especially around major junctions and interchanges.
  • A7 (Hamburg to Füssen): As one of the longest Autobahns in Germany, the A7 traverses through various regions, including urban areas and scenic landscapes, making it prone to congestion, particularly during peak travel times and holiday seasons.
  • A8 (Karlsruhe to Salzburg): Connecting Germany with Austria, the A8 is an essential transit route, experiencing heavy traffic, especially during holiday periods and summer vacations.
  • A9 (Berlin to Munich): Passing through several major cities, including Leipzig and Nuremberg, the A9 is a crucial north-south corridor, often experiencing congestion, particularly around urban centers and junctions.
  • A10 (Berlin Ring): As the ring road around Berlin, the A10 encounters heavy traffic due to its role in connecting various radial Autobahn routes and serving as a bypass for traffic avoiding the city center.

#6: Take Advantage of Rest Stops and Service Stations:

Utilize rest stops, gas stations, and service stations along the Autobahn for breaks, refueling, and refreshments. These facilities are conveniently located at regular intervals and provide opportunities to rest and recharge during long journeys.

#7: Adherence to Traffic Laws:

German drivers tend to exhibit a blend of discipline, caution, and courtesy on the Autobahn. It’s vital to respect all traffic laws and regulations while driving on the Autobahn. This includes obeying speed limits, using turn signals for lane changes, and maintaining safe following distances. Failure to comply with the vehicle code can result in fines or penalties.

Did you know it’s legal for German drivers to flash their lights or beep their horn to let you know they are approaching at speed? Just like at a race track, the flash indicates that the driver intends to overtake at speed. There are also hefty fines for tailgating other cars, with the maximum fine being 400 euros for the worst offenders.

Autobahn Speed Limit details

When driving in a foreign country, it’s vital to have a solid understanding of the important road traffic signs, including the Autobahn driving speed limit signs. The German Government is great at keeping the German roads well sign-posted, and from driving experience, it’s vital to know what the permanent speed limits and electronic signs are and when you can use them.

The recommended speed limit on the German autobahn is 50 km/h for urban driving, 100 km/h for non-urban driving, and then the recommended speed limit for the Autobahn is 130 km/h. Although this is not legally binding, it’s recommended. Any sign with a white circular sign and a red border can be enforced by law; simply put, you must obey these rules, or you risk being pulled over by the police or caught by blitz (speed cameras). The fastest autobahn speed limit signs are blue squares with white writing, and this is an advisory speed limit for cars.


There is also a no restrictions sign, indicated by a white sign with four black lines diagonally across it. This means that there is no speed limits and no recommended speed limits. Its important to also mention that dynamic speed limits are also popular in Germany. These are general speed limit controls dynamically implemented to improve traffic flow and control a traffic jam.

Autobahn Speed Limits: The Left Lane Need for Speed

Of the sections of the Autobahn in Germany that are restricted, different speeds apply to different classifications of vehicles. Passenger cars are allowed to travel at unrestricted speeds on unrestricted sections of the Autobahn. Vehicles with trailers are limited to either 80km/h or 100 km/h, depending on the size and weight of the car and trailer. Trucks are limited to 80km/h.

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Joey has spent his entire teen and adult life in cars. Joey's father owned a Jeep store, and Joey had his own used car lot that he ran himself from age 22 until I was 30. At 30 years old, Joey got "out of" the car business and joined CFR Rinkens. Joey started when there were only 9 people at CFR, but the company grew to over 150 employees during his time there. When Joey started, CFR Rinkens was shipping about 40 vehicles per week from Los Angeles. Joey established locations in Houston, Miami, and New York and within the first year, CFR went to shipping 150 cars per week. Joey started as a customer service rep and later moved up to sales manager, operations manager, and marketing manager. Joey then moved to Europe for two years and spent the entire time traveling through Europe meeting with clients. In 2022, Joey and his partners purchased CFR Classic from CFR Rinkens and he returned to California to watch over the operation more closely.

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