Monday, September 3, 2007

Driving in Germany & The Autobahn


Ever wonder if the autobahn is as cool as it sounds. Want to no more about driving in Germany? Here is some first hand experience that my wife and I have made over the last nine months of living and driving in Germany, including driving on the German autobahn.

We've also captured some of our experiences in Episode 7 our Living in Germany podcast which you can listen to using the player below. This show was inspired by my getting my 2nd speeding ticket in Germany in 8 months (more on that below).

For fans of the literary version, read on.

One of my first memories of driving in Germany came as a 19 year old missionary for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (commonly nicknamed the Mormon Church). I was assigned to work in Aachen, Germany at the time and had only been in the country for about 3 weeks. A couple from the congregation in Aachen were driving me and my companion somewhere in the city of Aachen. We came to a stop light, which was turning yellow and the husband sped up to make the light (he was turning right, which I'll talk more about in a minute).

I thought nothing of this and just watched out the window, until suddenly the wife yelled out "Josef, Kamara!" You can likely guess the translation - "Joseph, Camera!" This took me by surprise and I was not sure what to think. By the time I figured out what she had said and was referring to I could just catch a glimpse of a little green box back at the intersection we had just passed.

For those who have been in Germany, you know that the little green boxes are cameras (commonly referred in German to as Starenkasten or Blitzer). These cameras are used to take pictures of traffic violations and send out tickets to the violators. When this happens to you you have been "geblitzt". This is the common method for issuing tickets and I remember the couple in Aachen discussing whether or not a picture had been taken, and if the camera was new, why they hadn't seen it before, etc. The Police speed cameras come in stationary and mobile forms (see Wikipedia for more).

I did not personally learn much from this history lesson, as I have already been geblitzt, or captured on film twice for traffic violations in our first nine months in Germany. But in a way this inspired our podcast and has hopefully inspired me to drive a bit more slowly.

Well here are a few of the other things we have learned about driving in Germany and about the thrill of driving on the German autobahn.

  • No right turn on Red. In other words, a red stoplight means stop 100% of the time.

  • Yellow means slow down. Why? Because of the next interesting rule.

  • Red, Yellow, Green, means go. It's like at the race track. Before getting a green light you are forewarned that green is coming with a Yellow light. When the Yellow is shown (red is still lit as well) then you start driving. Thus slowing down on yellow is generally a good idea because the other cars are reving up on the other side of the intersection.

  • street on the right has the right of way (unless there is a sign to indicate otherwise).

  • As mentioned above, Cameras are used to catch moving traffic violations, and they are very good at catching people (see the podcast for more).

Some Rules for the German Autobahn

  • Contrary to popular belief, there are speed limits on the autobahn. These occur near major cities, in tunnels, in high traffic, and near major interchanges.

  • Just like any other moder freeway system, the German autobahn experiences traffic jams, especially during rush hour. In German this is called a Stau. The radio stations (British stations as well) generally report on any Stau or traffic jam of greater than 3 kilometers. If there are not very many traffic jams, then they report on any Stau or traffic jam of greater than 2 kilometers.
    We had the lovely experience of sitting in two traffic jams of 10 plus kilometers each on our way to Hannover this summer.

  • When enforced, Autobahn speed limits range from 80 - 120 kilometers per hour (roughly 50 - 75 m.p.h). 80 km p.h. is common for tunnels.

  • Autobahn = No passing on the right --> very important rule at speeds near and above 100 m.p.h.

  • The German word "Autobahn", means highway or freeway.

Before showing some of the common signs that we found worthy of posting and discussing on our podcast, I'll discuss driving on the autobahn, and one of the best and most exhilarating signs in all of German driving, the one that takes away all the speed limits.

Seeing the "no more speed limits" sign on the autobahn is truly awesome. For me it's like being on a race track and driving under yellow or caution (120 k/mh or 75 m.p.h.) and then seeing the green flag starting to wave. Cars start to speed up and race ahead. The traffic starts to thin out and the stronger cars move left and to the head of the pack, while the slower cars move into the right hand lane. Truly exhilarating!

When there are no speed limits I generally drive between 80 & 90 m.p.h. Since most modern cars are designed to drive this fast it seems normal and natural to drive this fast. I'm not sure how many tickets I'll get when we go back to the states, or if I'll be able to slow back down to 55 - 65 m.p.h. This I know, I literally hated driving long stretches of highway in the U.S., but here it is a pure pleasure. And so, for now I'll just continue enjoying our time on the German autobahn.

Here the pics:

Right of way for the Street (until we tell you otherwise - see next sign)

END of right of way for the street

right of way for the next intersection only (thereafter, the streets on the right have the right of way again)

frogs could be crossing here (we have this cute little sign in our neighborhood)

speed limit sign 60 km hour (normally 120 on the autobahn)

"no more speed limits" (normally 120 crossed out on the autobahn)

The police speed camera that caught me at 62 km/h in a 50 km/h zone from the back side (Starenkasten, Blitzer). The sad thing is they have maps published on the internet that tell you exactly where the police speed cameras are located.
Had I only known sooner.

Here are some informative links for driving in Germany :
Getting Around Germany - the Autobahn
The German Way - Autobahn
OfficialUS Embassey Info - good details

1 comment:

v_v said...

To answer your question. Most Germans and more generally Europeans, obey the posted speed limits in tunnels because of the Mont Blanc tunnel accident that killed 30 people.
Heres a link

March 2007