Driving on the Autobahn
This page contains the following topics:
- What is Autobahn?
- Important Rules and Tips for Driving on the Autobahn
- Actions Prohibited on the Autobahn
- German Autobahn Signs
- Autobahn Map
- Routes on Autobahn Suitable for High Speed (above 120 kph/75 mph)
- To see the general traffic rules and laws in Germany, please visit Traffic Laws and Regulations.
- To see the important road signs in Germany, please visit Important Road Signs.
- To see right-of-way rules, right-before-left rules, and other priority rules in Germany, please visit the page Right of Way.
1. What is Autobahn?
The simple answer is that the German word for highway or motorway is Autobahn. All three German-speaking nations—Germany, Austria, and Switzerland—use the word Autobahn for highways or motorways. The only thing that makes the German Autobahn famous is its "No SPEED LIMITS" routes.
No speed limitations: Not all German Autobahns are without speed limits. In contrast to popular belief, the Autobahn only has some portions where you can drive without any speed limit. An Autobahn section with no speed limit begins with the sign 282.
After this sign on the Autobahn, there would be no speed limit ahead, and this sign also cancels all previous restrictions for passing/overtaking.
Passing / overtaking restrictions can be following:
This sign prohibits passing/overtaking motor vehicles. It is permissible to pass/overtake single-line motor vehicles (for example, motorcycles).
This sign indicates the end of a no-passing zone for motor vehicles.
This sign prohibits vehicles with a gross weight of over 3.5 tons and trucks or tractors pulling trailers from passing/overtaking motor vehicles, except for two-wheeled motor vehicles.
Marks the end of no passing zone for trucks.
2. Important Rules and Tips for Driving on the Autobahn
2.1 Autobahn Speed Limit
Certain sections of the Autobahn have no speed limits. Though they have an advisory speed limit (in German: Richtgeschwindigkeit) of 130 km/h (80 mph). The "no-speed limit" condition does not apply to all types of vehicles. It is only applicable to vehicles with a gross weight under 3.5 tons. However, passenger vehicles and SUVs are exempt, even if they weigh more than 3.5 tons, and are eligible to drive without speed limit restrictions when the no-speed limit sign (ie., sign 282) appears.
Please note that even on the no-speed limit sections of the Autobahn, the maximum speed limit for motor vehicles with a weight of more than 3.5 tons (excluding passenger cars), passenger cars with trailers, trucks alone or/and with trailers, motor homes alone or/and with trailers, and buses without trailers is 80 km/h (50 mph).
The maximum speed limit for motorcycles with trailers, trucks with two trailers, and buses/coaches with trailers or full of passengers is 60 km/h.
Please also consider that on Autobahn sections with no speed limits, it is hard to estimate the speed of an approaching vehicle in rearview mirrors. A person driving at 200 km/h may think that he or she is driving very fast on the Autobahn, but there can be vehicles approaching at much faster speeds than 200 km/h. High-speed Autobahn driving is an essential part of driving school training in Germany. German driving schools teach their students in such a way that drivers should be on alert and be ready to recognize typical errors caused often by other drivers and be able to cover those errors.
2.2 Minimum Required Speed on the Autobahn
Only motor vehicles are allowed to use the Autobahn. Vehicles that are not capable of maintaining a speed of 60 km/h (37 mph) are not allowed on the Autobahn. Like, agriculture machines, tractors, mopeds, electric scooters, or quads with top speeds of less than 60 km/h are not allowed on the Autobahn. Walking is also not permitted along the Autobahn. Driving slower than 60 km/h for any reason is not permitted. If, for example, a vehicle has some mechanical fault and can't attain a speed of at least 60 km/h, it must leave the Autobahn at the next exit and use other roads.
2.3 Use of Hard Shoulders on the Autobahn
Autobahns have hard-surface shoulders. Traffic is not allowed on these shoulders under normal road conditions, even during traffic jams. The only reason to drive on these hard-surface shoulders is mechanical trouble in a vehicle. In some special conditions, sign 223.1-51
This lane shifts to the right hard shoulder.
Both lanes shift to the right. The right lane shifts to the right hard shoulder.
This sign permits the use of the hard shoulder as a driving lane.
No more using the hard shoulder as a driving lane is permitted.
Leave the hard shoulder and merge into the left lane.
2.4 Important Rules to Remember While Driving on the Autobahn
Whether on the Autobahn or any other road in Germany, drivers must have a warning triangle and a first aid kit with them in their vehicles. The absence of any of these can cause a fine.
There is a strict rule on the Autobahn and other roads in Germany called Rechtsfahren (always stay in the right lane). The left lane is only used for overtaking or passing, except in special situations (for example, congestion or accidents). It is legal to remain in the left lane if you are waiting for the vehicle ahead to finish the passing maneuver. Even if you are traveling at a very high speed, there will be vehicles traveling faster than you. So, be aware and alert. While you are passing another vehicle, sometimes drivers behind you insist on leaving the lane through the blinking of headlights (it's called Lichthuppe in German). Just ignore them and complete your passing course.
Yellow road markers are used to identify road sections that are under construction. When you see white and yellow lines on a German road, the white lines are no longer valid. Yellow lines have priority over white markings. However, yellow road markings are temporary, marked to regulate traffic only in the construction areas. To see more details about road markings in Germany, please visit the Road Markings page.
Temporary road markings in a construction area on a German Autobahn
Vehicles using exit lanes at Autobahn intersections may drive faster than vehicles in the lane to their left after reaching the broken white line, which designates the exit lanes have begun (significantly wider traffic lane marking shortly before the restricted area).
Autobahns have dividing strips in the center next to guardrails. Crossing dividing strips is illegal.
Emergency vehicles have the right of way, and all other vehicles must yield to emergency traffic. During congestion on the Autobahn, emergency vehicles usually approach from the middle of the road. Vehicles must move to the right and left sides of the Autobahn, respectively, to clear their way.
3. Actions Prohibited on the Autobahn
- Running out of gas. Drivers may be fined for stopping if their vehicles run out of gas.
- Making U-turns or backing up
- Stopping or parking
- Driving in the left lane to prevent vehicles from passing
- Tailgate and flash headlights to force other drivers into the right lane.
- Getting out of the vehicle when stuck in a traffic jam
4. German Autobahn Signs
Following are common signs found on the Autobahn.
This sign marks the start of the Autobahn. All laws and guidelines about the Autobahn must be followed going forward. Hitchhiking beyond this point is prohibited.
This sign shows the end of the Autobahn. This sign is installed just before the end of the Autobahn. This sign may also indicate the distance in meters to the end of the Autobahn.
This sign marks the direction to the nearest Autobahn entrance and nearest city via the respective Autobahn.
This sign is installed at Autobahn exits. Exits marked by this sign are the only authorized exits from the Autobahn.
"Ausfahrt" means "Exit."
Exit board on an Autobahn (indicates exit to the mentioned city or cities). Mainz and Wiesbaden are the names of cities.
If a driver continues on the Autobahn, the number at the top indicates the route number and the next large city that may be reached by that route. The names of the first two towns that can be accessed by taking the next exit are below. At the bottom is the name of the closest town.
This Autobahn sign shows distances to major cities. Below the line are major cities via intersection, along with their respective motorway numbers. The green-colored number indicates a European highway route.
Autobahn sign showing distances to major cities. Below the line are major cities via intersection along with their respective motorway number. The green-colored number indicates a European highway route.
This sign indicates an Autobahn exit or a motorway interchange. The number in the circle indicates the interchange number.
This particular example sign means the next exit from the Autobahn to the city of Düsseldorf-Berath is 1000 meters away.
Autobahn interchange/exit number. Each exit and interchange on the Autobahn has a unique number, whether it's an exit to a rest area, another federal road, or another Autobahn route.
Noticeboard indicating a 24-hour service area.
"Autohof" means "Service Area."
This sign indicates the Autobahn route number.
Direction signs in a city or on the Autobahn. Here, it shows the directions to the "Autobahn," "Messe" (fair), and the two nearest cities with their respective highway numbers (if applicable). Yellow signs represent German federal highways, and white signs are used to indicate a local area and small roads. Autobahn signs are always in blue.
Autobahn exit marker: installed at 100 meters before the exit. Each diagonal white stripe indicates 100 meters.
Autobahn exit marker: installed at 200 meters before the exit.
Autobahn exit marker: installed at 300 meters before the exit.
Autobahn kilometer marker. These markers are installed after every half kilometer. They can be used as a location reference in the case of an emergency.
The sign on the left indicates the upcoming exit number 32. The right sign indicates junction number 33 ahead. The yellow pole in the image is an emergency telephone post.
4.1 Autobahn Signs and Markings in the Construction Areas or on the Routes in Danger of Traffic Congestion
The general warning or danger sign. This sign warns of an approaching dangerous area. A supplementary sign may explain the type of approaching danger.
Sign indicating construction work in progress. Be aware of workers and machinery.
This sign warns of a narrow passage ahead.
This sign warns of a possible traffic jam (in German: Stau) ahead.
Autobahn detour sign. This sign is normally installed along with a white supplementary sign that indicates the distance to the detour.
These signs give directions for Autobahn detours, indicating turn left, straight ahead, and turn right, respectively.
The letter U represents Umleitung (detour). U22 means detour number 22.
Autobahn detour direction signs: these signs give advance information about detour turns ahead. These signs are slightly different than the previously shown signs (460). These signs show that you should turn left or right after the sign, while signs in the 460 category show to turn left or right before the sign.
These signs are also installed at Autobahn detours. They guide to arrange in the left or right lane, respectively.
These signs recommend alternate Autobahn routes during heavy traffic loads or congestion. These signs can have supplementary signs indicating specific vehicles to take the recommended routes.
Recommended alternate Autobahn route: indicating straight ahead.
This sign marks the end of an alternate route.
Alternate route map: this sign indicates the route, in solid black lines, to take to get back on the Autobahn after having been detoured.
A layout of the detour route: indicates that the road straight ahead is closed. Turn left, follow the route through villages A and B, then turn right to take the route to the city of Stuttgart.
These three signs indicate a shift of traffic onto opposite lanes. All lanes shift to the left of the median. A line with an arrowhead represents a single lane.
This sign indicates the return of an earlier split lane.
Lane splitting or shifting signs can have different variations. It depends on the number of lanes on the particular driveway.
On Autobahns and other roads in Germany, electronic road signs are gradually replacing painted equivalents wherever they are feasible.
An example of digital road signs, at the moment showing the danger of congestion ahead.
5. Autobahn Map
Autobahn's structure is spread throughout Germany. The total length of Autobahns in Germany at the end of 2018 was 12,996 km (8,075 mi). More and more two-lane roads (two-lane expressways) are being converted into Autobahns. There are nine major Autobahns (A1 to A9) in Germany. They are all connected to the second- and third-level Autobahns. The second-level Autobahns have two numbers in their names, for example, A12, and the third-level Autobahns are indicated by three digits, for example, A111. These third-level Autobahns are usually ring roads, connecting two cities or two longer Autobahn routes.
Following is the map of nine major Autobahns, from A1 to A9.
Below is the spread pattern from Autobahn 10 to Autobahn 999.
For more detailed numbering of Autobahn, please see this map.
6. Which Autobahn sections are without speed limits?
The exact answer to the above question is not possible because speed limits are not permanently implemented. Speed limits are constantly changing on different sections of an Autobahn.
Generally, Autobahns in former East German states have relatively low traffic. The best time for high speeding is during the weekdays and in the night hours, especially after 12 a.m. to 5 a.m.
The best time to enjoy the high speed on the German Autobahn is when the German national soccer team is playing. The whole nation enjoys the soccer match, and Autobahn are free for high speeds.
6.1 Routes on Autobahn suitable for high speed and with relatively low traffic
As per the December 2021 update, the following unrestricted (without speed limit) Autobahn sections are still noticed with relatively low traffic and are suitable for high speeds (above 120 kph or 75mph).
A1: from Hamburg to Lübeck, between AS Bargteheide and Kreuz Lübeck
A1: from Schweich to Wittlich
A14: from Dresden to the intersection with Hannover
A2: from Bad Oeynhausen to Bielefeld Ost
A2: from Halle to Magdeburg
A20: from the junction with E251 to Rostock
A23: in Schleswig-Holstein, from Pinneberg Nord to Itzehoe Süd and from Itzehoe Nord to Heide Süd
A24: the section between Hamburg and the Wittstock/Dosse intersection
A261: from Buchholzer Dreieck to interchange Hamburg-Südwest (both directions)
A27: between Bremen and Bremerhaven, from Ihlpohl to Stotel
A28: from Oldenburg Wechloy to the parking lot in front of Westerstede
A28: from Raststätte Hasbruch Nord to Kreuz Oldenburg Ost
A28: from Westerstede West to Dreieck Leer
A3: Oberhausen, direction Cologne (direction south), between intersection Kaiserberg and intersection Breitscheid. Only in this direction. The opposite direction has a speed limit of 120 kph (75mph).
A3: between Straubing Autobahn entry/exit number 106 to Rosenhof entry/exit 103 in both directions, and A3 till the border of Holland
A3: from Siegburg in the direction of Frankfurt-Westerwald
A3: shortly after Regensburg until shortly before Nuremberg
A30: from the Dutch border to the Lotter Kreuz (just before Osnabrück), exception: Schüttorfer Kreuz (interchange A30/A31)
A33: on the section between Dissen/Bad Rothenfelde and the interchange Osnabrück-Süd
A38: the whole section has low traffic.
A39: Coming from Hamburg until just before Lüneburg Nord
A4: from Bucha to Klettbach
A4: between Gerstungen and Erfurf in both directions
A42: from the end of Oberhausen in the direction of Dortmund to Herne Wanne
A42: from Herne Crange to Duisburg until the beginning of Oberhausen
A43: from AK Münster Süd to the exit Recklinghausen/Herten
A52: from the exit Marl Frentrop to AK Marl Nord
A44: from Düsseldorf-Nord to Flughafen Düsseldorf (Duesseldorf airport) in both directions
A45: between Gambach intersection (Gambacher Kreuz) and Gießen south intersection (Gießener Südkreuz)
A46: from Heinsberg to the intersection at Wanlo
A485: from Gießener Südkreuz to the junction with the B3 to the north
A49: from Neuental to Baunatal-Süd
A5: between Basel (Swiss border) and Bad Bellingen
A5: between Autobahn exit number 37 Heidelberg and 26 Darmstadt intersection (Darmstädter Kreuz)
A5: between Karlsruhe and Walldorf
A5: from Grenze Weil am Rhein to Höhe Bad Bellingen
A52: From Elmpt to Mönchengladbach höhe Wolfskull, and vice versa A52 from Mönchengladbach-Neuwerk to Kreuz Kaarst
A524: in Duisburg, between Kreuz Breitscheid and Duisburg Rahm
A57: from Kreuzung Kaarst to interchange Neuss-West
A59: from beginning A46 to the exit of Rheindorf
A6: Between Kreuz Weinsberg (~ 500 meters after the driveway) and Bretzfeld
A6: from Bischmisheim to just beyond Waldmohr
A6: from Frankthaler Kreuz to Grünstadt
A6: from Hockenheim to Sinsheim
A60: between Bingen Ost and Heidesheim
A60: from Wittlich to the end of the extension at Prüm
A61: from Dannstadt until shortly before the exit on the B9 to Speyer
A61: from the intersection of Mönchengladbach to the border of Holland
A63: Between Mainz (Saulheim) and Kaiserslautern
A65: between Haßloch and Landau-Nord (only in this direction)
A66: between Wiesbaden-Nordenstadt and Frankfurt Zeilsheim (both directions)
A671: Mainz-Wiesbaden in both directions from the Mainbrücke bei Hochheim to the junction with A66
A7: between HH-Waltershof and Maschener Kreuz (only in the direction south)
A7: in the direction of Kassel from the Göttingen exit until shortly before the intersection at Drammetal
A7: north of Kassel-Nord crosses the Ellenbachstraße on the highway. From this bridge to the border of the state of Lower Saxony is no speed limit.
A70: from the intersection Schweinfurt/Werneck to the exit Bamberg / harbor with the exception of the tunnel Schwarzer Berg. Tunnel has as speed camera.
A71: between intersection Südharz and intersection Erfurt-Nord
A73: from Lichtenfels to Bamberg and vice versa. You can drive fast here from Höhe Bad Staffelstein.
A8: from junction A623/A8 to Heusweiler
A8: from the border of Luxembourg to the Tunnel Pellinger Berg (in both directions)
A8: from Merzig to exit Rehlingen-Siersburg (in both directions)
A8: from Wurmberg to the intersection of Leonberg
A9: from Berlin to A4 Leipzig
A9: from Halle to Leipzig
A9: from Marktschorgast to Berg/Bad Steben (This section of A9 is famous for high speeding.)
A9: from Marktschorgast to Berg/Bad Steben
A92: only the section from Moosburg Nord to Landshut (Altdorf) has a speed limit of 120 kph (75 mph); otherwise, there are no limits on A92.
A93: from Weiden to Regenstauf in both directions
A96: from Lindau to interchange Memmingen
B15: in direction north
B15: in the direction north from Kläham/Ergolsbach up to the intersection of Saalhaupt
B9: in the Rhineland-Palatinate (Rheinland-Pfalz), from the junction Germersheim to Karlsruhe. Though it's a two-lane Autobahn, but it often stays empty.