Okay, so the title here is a little misleading. Despite having my driver license, I still don’t drive in Germany. Those stick shifts are scary. And some of the rules of the road are a bit different here than where I’m from, which makes me even more nervous.
Yielding to the Right
In Germany, when you come to an intersection and there are no signs indicating which road has priority, you yield to traffic coming from the right. Once the road to your right is clear, you can go, and those to your left are supposed to wait for you. This is one that I’ve had to burn into my brain, because I do ride my bike regularly, and I’ve got to follow those rules too.
Where I’m from, they just stick stop signs everywhere, but I can see how yielding to the right is more convenient. When there is no or little traffic, not everyone is stopping a the intersection. I’m sure my dad would love this rule, because he hates stopping at stop signs anyway.
Traffic Lights on Your Side of the Intersection
Here your traffic light is on your side of the intersection, meaning that if you are stopped at the edge of the intersection, the traffic light is only a few feet away. When you have a tall German in a tiny car, they sometimes have trouble seeing the lights. In the US, the traffic lights are on the opposite side of the intersection from where the drivers are stopped, which, I think, make them much easier to see.
Yellow Light Before Green
In the US, you get no warning before your light turns green. You just stare at the red light until it disappears. Granted, most people drive cars with automatic transmissions, so there is no preparation needed for the driver to go from a stop to moving. Move foot off brake, put foot on gas.
Here, the yellow light will appear with the red light when the light is about to change. Most people in Germany drive cars with manual transmissions, and I am under the impression that having a brief warning before the light turns green helps the process along.
Stopping in the Intersection When Turning Left
This one is a regional thing on my part, because I’ve seen this happen in other places in the US. People turning left with a regular green light (not an arrow) will pull into the intersection as soon as the light turns green and wait there until there is an opening – which sometimes doesn’t happen until the light turns yellow or even red. Where I’m from, people tend not to enter the box until they see an opening coming up, and, personally, I get irrationally angry at people who I think are “blocking the box.”
I’m used to red light cameras, but speed cameras are much more prevalent here. If you’re driving down the Autobahn, in a section that does have a speed limit, and suddenly you see a red flash, you’ve been caught. Like with the red light cameras in St. Louis, people tend to treat getting tickets from these more as an annoyance than anything – as long as they don’t get enough to jeopardize their license. The fee is only around 10€-35€ if you are less than 20 km/h over (faster than that, and the fees do jump up quite a bit), and despite generally being rule followers, Germans do enjoy driving fast.
They also don’t have signs for these, they’re pretty tricky. Sometimes it’s obvious where they have one set up, or sometimes it’s housed inside a vehicle on the side of the road. In St. Louis, intersections that have cameras have about half a dozen signs telling you so.
I could probably do a whole post on debunking rumors about the Autobahn. But mostly what I want to say here is that, yes, people will drive fast, but no, it’s not a crazy, racing free-for-all. The drivers are generally quite orderly, with slower traffic actually staying to the right and faster traffic staying on the left. This is supposed to be a thing in the US. I know a few people who have gotten tickets in Missouri for “driving on the left” and not passing, but it’s not followed as strictly as here. People give slow cars in the left lane ample opportunity to get over to the right, and will only pass on the right, quite angrily, once their patience has been exceeded.
Obviously, I need to get out there and drive more so I can share my personal experience, but these are my observations so far. I hope they’re helpful for anyone who wants to drive in Germany.
I completely forgot the most important difference! It’s the difference that gave me the idea for this list in the first place.
No Right on Red
In Missouri, if you are turning right at an intersection with a traffic light, you can treat the red light like a stop sign unless otherwise marked. Come to a complete stop, and if the way is clear, turn right. This is a definite no-go in Germany! Don’t turn right unless you have a green light or an arrow.
It is such a habit to turn right on red, that I can see this being a big problem for American drivers.