Whether you’re visiting Germany or live here, driving can different than at home. Germans are on the whole, far better drivers than those in other countries. Indeed, they require extensive (and expensive) training to get a driver’s license, and only at age 18. Despite the reputation for unlimited speeds that Germany has, its drivers use far more caution and have more rules to follow. So if you’re heading out to hit a new crag or hit the Alps in Allgau, don’t forget these quick tips for foreigners driving in Germany.
#1 – Using public transport for climbing trips
While Germany, and Europe in general is well-known for its excellent public transportation network, climbers will find that it just doesn’t cut it for getting to many crags. Generally speaking, you’ll need wheels to get to at least half of the crags in any given guidebook. Those that are reachable, tend to be technically possible with public transport but awfully inconvenient to the point of barely being worth it.
#2 The Truth about Speed Limits
Contrary to popular misconceptions, there ARE speed limits. In contrast to the US, many of Germany’s speed limit signs are digital and controlled remotely. This means that speed limits changed based on conditions (weather, heavy or light traffic, construction, traffic jams further down the road). The standard speed is 120 km/h, and occasionally 130 km/h. But be warned: If you drive over the recommended speed you can and often will be held accountable for a crash, even if it was not your fault.
Similar to the US when the highway goes near bigger towns, the speed limit will drop and then go back up later. On less traveled stretches, early in the morning or late at night or during light traffic, the speed limit disappears and you can fly. The fastest I’ve gone so far is about 200 km/h (124 mph) however that was just testing the new car. On average, I’ll usually do 90 – 100 mph because that’s usually just going with the flow and not intentionally speeding.
The sign below is the “now there is no speed limit” sign in Germany.
#3 Cameras or You Can’t Argue with Robocop
You’ll almost never see a policeman on the highway. If you do, they’re driving by in a car. They don’t hide and use radar guns to get speeders. Occasionally they’ll setup mobile cameras to keep people on their toes, but even that isn’t too frequent in my experience.
While it may be nice to not worry about hidden cop cars, speed cameras are the primary means of enforcement and you can’t argue with them. All you’ll see is a bright flash and then it’s just waiting for an automated letter to be sent to you with the fine to pay. While it’s more pleasant than dealing with police, there’s no common sense either so you can’t ever argue your way out of it, for example in the case of an honest mistake.
How to cope: Use Waze! They have all the fixed cameras on them and warn you 500 meters in advance. Don’t drive anywhere new without it!
#4 Do’s and Don’ts of Passing
- Do pass on the left ONLY.
- NEVER EVER pass on the right. It’s illegal and extremely rare. Driver’s aren’t watching for it.
- You can’t drive faster than the cars to your left! If you are in the middle lane (and staying in it), you cannot drive faster than the cars in the left lane – it’s illegal. You must switch lanes to the left.
#5 The Left Lane is for Flying
The far left lane is ONLY for passing. Unlike the US, it’s not for those who’re going a few mph faster and just hang in the left lane forever. You switch lanes, pass as many cars as necessary, and move back right. You do NOT just stay in it to drive unless you’re going so fast that you’re passing everyone. Get in and back out as soon as you can. That’s the law