What is the Autobahn?
It’s known across the world as the German highway with no speed limit. But it’s more than that. For speedsters and auto fanatics, the Autobahn is the ultimate place to take your shiny new sports car, especially with luxury European automakers close by.
Where is the Autobahn?
The word autobahn translates to “motorway,” so technically speaking, any country has an autobahn. However, the Autobahn references Germany’s highway system. Since Austria and Switzerland also speak German, their highways are also called autobahn.
How long is the Autobahn?
The Autobahn in Germany is 12,993 km (8,073 miles) long. To compare, the United States’ highways are 77,540 kilometers (48,180 miles) combined. When you think about the size of the United States and the size of Germany, the length and density of the Autobahn is impressive.
Autobahn Speed Limit – Myth or Fact?
Famous for being the fastest highway in the world, there actually are speed limits on the Autobahn, believe it or not. Specific limits are posted near urban areas, like Frankfurt, Berlin and Munich, or for construction and heavy traffic. These limits will be posted as black numbers with a red outline on a white circular sign.
Outside of these areas, there is a recommended top speed of 130 kilometers per hour (50-80 mph). These will be posted as white numbers on blue square signs. While there are a few sections of the Autobahn without a speed limit, it’s wise to not go above 130 km/h, especially if you’re new to this highway.
You’ll see electronic signs that display “dynamic speed limits,” giving live updates to control traffic if there is an accident, construction, severe weather or special road conditions. Some may even show different limits for the specific lane that you’re driving in, so pay close attention to these.
Autobahn Highway Laws
Like every road system, there are traffic laws that all drivers must obey. Some of these are obvious, but some are specific to the Autobahn.
- It is illegal to pass on the right. You can pass only on the left.
- Stay in the right lane, especially if you’re new to the Autobahn. The left lane is for drivers going extremely fast or for passing vehicles in the right lane.
- Stopping, parking, u-turns and backing up on the Autobahn is illegal.
- It is illegal to run out of gas on the Autobahn; it’s seen as a preventable circumstance and it leads to stopping, which is illegal.
- Entering and exiting is only allowed on the marked interchanges.
- Pulling over onto the shoulder is prohibited, unless your car breaks down.
Autobahn, Germany Travel Tips
The following tips aren’t as mandated as the laws above, but they are social customs that every driver on the Autobahn should follow.
- Triple check your mirrors before changing lanes. Because cars travel so fast on the Autobahn, someone may come zipping up when there was no one there a second ago.
- Most rental cars will have standard transmission. If you’re used to automatic, that feature is extra otherwise you need to quickly learn how to drive standard.
- Police don’t run speed radar the way they do in the United States. Instead, there are cameras in area with strict speed limits that will take a picture of your license to deliver an electronic ticket. Just because you don’t see a police car doesn’t mean you’re off the hook.
- Rest stops and service stations are available every 40-60 km. Drivers are encouraged to take a break at these areas every 100 km (or two hours) as the highway can be draining. These stops can include gas stations, cafes, restrooms and hotels.
- Embrace the local driving culture. German drivers don’t need as much elbow room as Americans do on the road, so don’t take it personally if it seems like a fellow driver cut you off. Chances are they thought you had plenty of space.
Helpful Terms to Know When Driving in Germany
Sprechen Sie Deutsch? Learn the following terms to help you out when driving in Germany, Austria or Switzerland.
- Ausfahrt = exit; posted on road signs to indicate a rest stop or on/off-ramps.
- Stau = traffic jam; you’ll hear radio announcements informing drivers where congestion or even stopped traffic affects nearby roads.
- Unfall = accident; another term you may hear on the radio or see on electronic live-update signs.
- Rettungsgasse = free lane; during a Stau, the stopped traffic forms an open lane to allow emergency vehicles to pass through, especially for accidents on the Autobahn.
Shipping Cars to and from Germany
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