Germany is home to the autobahn, the most fun highway system to drive on.
The autobahn has no speed limit, yet cars seem to drive around one another in a beautifully timed dance. Slower cars and trucks drive only the far right lane, and the remainder of the lanes are used only for passing. No one settles in the left lane; this is for passing only.
With no speed limit, timing is important, as a car driving over 250 km/h can sneak up on you pretty quickly. We pushed our little Toyota up to 200 km/h, and it was a wonder we still had fancy cars zooming past us as if we weren’t even moving.
Though the lack of speed limit may seem nerve wracking, the Germans focus on other ways to ensure safety. The main one is maintaining safe distances between vehicles. As I said, a fast car will approach you quickly. Thus, now and then there are lines painted on the roadway; this should be the minimum distance between you and the car ahead of you. Police occassionally watch from bridges above to ensure cars are obeying these space rules. The fines for violating this rule can be fairly significant – over 300 euros to pay and a 3 month licence suspension.
It really is amazing, and despite the potential dangers Germany has fewer car accidents than average.
Other interesting facts about the autobahn and tips on how to drive the German autobahn:
- The “suggested” speed limit is 130 km/h. And though the majority of the autobahn has no marked speed limit, there will be signs in urban or construction areas. Some classes of vehicles also have an imposed speed limit, such as those carrying passengers or cargo.
- It is against the law to pass another car on the right.
- Coming from North America, it has become quickly noticeable to me that trucks here are few and far between. It is a very rare site, and I am yet to see one since our arrival here.
- Cars all look remarkably new. There are no “beaters” to be seen zooming along the autobahn. I learned that this is because Germany enforces inspections that a vehicle must go through every 1-2 years. Because these inspections are quite strict, newer cars are encouraged on the roads. I figure this is probably a benefit, as seeing a 20 year old car push 200 km/h on the highway makes me nervous!
- Semi trucks are not allowed to drive the autobahn on the weekends. This is to ease traffic for travellers and to lessen the noise. (A few may be allowed if they are carrying specialty goods, but they require a special permit).
- Despite it being generally safe, the autobahn is of course not immune to traffic accidents. And when they do occur, they often result in multi-car pile ups. This is the dreaded “stau” where you can be stuck for hours until the accident is clear.
- All vehicles must be equipped with a first aid kit and a reflector triangle to place on the road in case they need to pull over. First aid training is necessary to obtain your license in Germany. Thus, there is also a “duty to rescue”, meaning a driver should stop to help in an accident unless there is already somebody on the scene.
- 95% of cars are standards. Unlike North America, where automatic cars dominate, these are a rare find here.
- The fastest ever recorded speed on the Autobahn was a whopping 432km/h! Accomplished in a Mercedes-Benz in true German fashion.