Driving in German Cities, Towns, and Villages

This page contains the following topics:

  1. Personal Safety and Mandatory Equipment in the Vehicle
  2. Speed Limit in German cities
  3. 30 ZONE
  4. Two Types of Speed Limits in Germany
  5. Two-lane Expressway
  6. Speed Limit on Roads Outside City Limits
  7. Advisory Speed Limit Indicator
  8. Priority Road
  9. Right before Left
  10. Tailgating
  11. Traffic-Calming Zones
  12. No Entry Signs in Germany
  13. One-way Street (Einbahnstraße)
  14. German Railroad Crossing
  15. To see the important road signs in Germany, please visit Important Road Signs.

Learn German on Your Own
A self-study guide for beginners

1. Personal Safety and Mandatory Equipment in the Vehicle

All passengers must wear their seatbelts at all times. The driver must also check that all passengers are wearing their seatbelts. If any of the passengers is not wearing a seatbelt, the driver may face a fine of up to 50 euros. Children under the age of three must be sitting in the back kid seat. Children under the age of 12 and those shorter than 1.5 meters must sit in the back of the car. A child seat or proper restraint is recommended for all children under 12 years.
Some equipment is mandatory in every traveling vehicle in Germany, which includes:

  1. A first aid kit (mandatory for vehicles registered in Germany and recommended for foreign-registered vehicles)
  2. A warning triangle (mandatory for vehicles registered in Germany and recommended for foreign-registered vehicles)
  3. A reflective safety jacket (mandatory for vehicles registered in Germany and recommended for foreign-registered vehicles)
  4. Helmets for motorcycle or moped riders
  5. Beam deflectors
  6. Cycles must be installed with functional front and backlight during night, rain, and snow. The default reflectors are not enough.

2. Speed Limits in German Cities

The normal speed limit within cities is 50 km/h. This limit automatically starts at a sign bearing the city name. When seeing the sign 310, drivers must reduce their speed to 50 km/h until a sign appears allowing a higher speed limit or a sign indicating the end of the city boundary, i.e., sign 311 or 310-40.

Sign 310

This sign indicates the name of a town or city. At this point, speed must be reduced to 50 km/h.
The German word Kreis is the short form of the word "Landkreis." A Kreis is an adminisrative district that contains multiple municipalities.

Sign 311

The backside of sign 310 shows the end of the current city limits (here, Wilster) and marks the next city. A speed limit of 100 km/h is generally applicable now.

The next city, Schotten, is 6 km away.

3. 30 ZONE

Inside city limits, there can be some inner residential areas where speed limits are reduced to 30 km/h. These areas are marked by the sign 274.

Sign 274-1

Signboard indicating 30 ZONE ahead. Upon seeing this sign, the speed must be reduced to 30 km/h.

Sign 274-2

The speed limit of 30 km/h is no longer applicable. Here starts the regular intercity speed limit of 50 km/h.

4. Types of Speed Limits in Germany

A speed indicated inside a red circle is the highest permissible speed on that road, whereas a speed limit written on a blue circular sign is the minimum empowered speed.

4.1. Upper-speed limit

Sign 274

Indicates the maximum speed allowed on the road.

Sign 278

Indicates the end of the current speed limit zone.

4.2. Lower speed limit

Some roads have mandatory minimum speed implementations. Vehicles that cannot sustain the required speed, except for specific types of military vehicles, are not permitted on highways when sign 275 appears.

Sign 275

Indicates required speed on the road. The driving speed must not be less than that shown on the sign, unless the road and traffic conditions, weather, or visibility make it necessary to drive more slowly.

Sign 279

Indicates the end of the minimum speed requirement.

Autobahn (sign 330) and roads reserved for motor vehicles (sign 331) have a minimum required speed limit of 60 km/h (37 mph). This minimum required speed limit must be obeyed except when the road, traffic, visibility, or weather conditions force drivers to proceed more slowly.

5. Two-lane Expressway (Kraftfahrstraße)

A German two-lane expressway is a road with only one lane in each direction and usually no metallic median barrier in between.

On expressways outside built-up areas with one-way lanes separated by a median or other types of structures, the same speed limits apply as on the Autobahns.

Many rural highways have been converted to two-lane expressways. These segments are built to Autobahn standards but with only one carriageway. All the overpasses, culverts, short bridges, cuttings, and earthworks are wide enough for twin carriageways. Only some long bridges would need to be dualized for upgrading to a full 4- or 5-lane Autobahn.

A two-lane Expressway is marked by sign 331.1.

Sign 331.1

This sign is posted at the beginning of the two-lane expressway (Kraftfahrstraße). Entrances to this road are restricted only to motor vehicles. This sign permits only vehicles capable of maintaining speeds of 60 km/h or more. All other vehicles (for example, bicycles and animal-drawn vehicles) are prohibited on these roads.

Sign 331.2

End of the two-lane expressway. This sign is posted where the restrictions required by sign 331 end.

In the middle of the expressway, a solid white line (sign 295) forbids cars from passing on either side of the line. Vehicles are not permitted to cross the solid white line, and motorcyclists are not permitted to lean over the line. It is illegal to stop or park on the left side of a solid white line that marks the boundary of the road.

A broken white line (sign 340) is used to indicate traffic lanes or the road's center. Only if the crossing can be done safely may the broken line be crossed.

Sign 295

Solid white line

Sign 340

Broken white line

Sign 296

A solid and a broken white line (sign 296) indicate that passing is allowed for drivers on the side of the broken line and prohibited for drivers on the side of the solid line.

To read more about the road markings in Germany, please visit the page Road Markings.

6. Speed Limits on German Roads Outside City Limits

On roads outside built-up areas:

Sign 393

This sign is posted at country borders. It indicates the speed limit inside city limits, outside city limits, and on the autobahn.

On roads that are separated by median strips or other structures, as well as on roads having at least two lanes for each direction marked by a lane boundary (sign 295) or by guidelines (sign 340), the advisory speed limit for passenger cars and other motor vehicles with a gross vehicle weight of up to 3.5 tons is 130 km/h.

7. Recommended Speed Limit Sign in Germany
      (Advisory Speed Limit Indicator)

Sign 380 indicates a recommended maximum speed, even if weather and road conditions allow you to drive faster. Recommended speed limits are intended to create a smooth flow of traffic.

Sign 380

This blue square sign recommends that drivers should not exceed the speed mentioned, even if the driver has favorable road, traffic, visibility, and weather conditions.

8. Priority Road Sign in Germany

The priority road sign (sign 306) assigns the road a priority. Traffic on this road has the right-of-way over traffic entering this road at unmarked intersections.

Outside of city limits and communities, parking on a priority road is prohibited, unless there are marked places or parking signs.

Sign 306

Drivers on this road have the right-of-way at all intersections on this road until canceled by a "Yield," "Stop," or "End of Priority Road" sign. Outside of urban areas, parking is prohibited on this road.

Sign 307

This sign indicates the end of a priority road and the end of the right-of-way (sign 306).

Often, priority road signs may have supplementary traffic signs. In some cases, priority roads turn left or right instead of straight ahead. If the priority road turns, this will be indicated by the sign 306 and a directional sign showing the priority road in bold. Please see the examples below:

Sign 306 with 1002-12

This sign indicates that traffic on the priority road (indicated by the bold, curved black line) has the right-of-way at the next junction.

This sign gives the driver on the priority road the right-of-way, not only when turning left but also while driving straight.

Sign 306 with 1002-21

Drivers who want to leave the priority road have the right-of-way over the drivers having yield signs.

Drivers who stay on the priority road must use their turn signal when the priority road turns.

There is another priority road sign (sign 301), which is only to be seen at intersections. This sign indicates traffic on this road has priority over traffic entering from other directions.

Sign 301

This sign indicates that traffic on this road has right-of-way only at the next intersection.

9. Right-before-Left

Vehicles approaching an intersection from the right have the right-of-way when there are no traffic signs present. This regulation covers bicycles, automobiles, and carts pulled by animals. No matter how wide the street is or how angled the intersection is, the right-before-left rule is always in effect, with the exceptions listed below.

9.1 Exceptions to the Right-Before-Left Rule

  1. Vehicles entering the road from pedestrian zones and pedestrian priority zones have no priority over the traffic flow. These vehicles must yield to oncoming traffic, including pedestrians and bicycles, while exiting pedestrian zones (designated by signs 239 or 242) or pedestrian priority zones (designated by sign 325).
  2. Sign 239
    Sign 242-1

    "Pedestrians only" zone. This sign indicates an area where only pedestrians are permitted.

    Sign 242-2

    End of "pedestrians only" zone

    Sign 242-2

    Traffic-Controlled Residential Area. This sign is installed on or before streets on which pedestrians and playing children have priority. Motor vehicles must yield to pedestrians and children playing on this street.

    Sign 325-2

    End of Traffic-Controlled Residential Area. This sign indicates the end of the traffic-controlled residential area (sign 325-1). Vehicles leaving these areas must yield to all kinds of traffic.

  3. The right-before-left rule is not applicable on an entrance ramp to the autobahn and express road.
  4. When a vehicle enters a public road from a private property, a private road, or a parking space, the right-before-left rule becomes irrelevant, and traffic flow on the public road has priority.

Please see a detailed article on the right-before-left rule on this page.

10. Tailgating

Drivers must keep their vehicles at safe distances from vehicles in front of them to avoid fatal accidents from sudden or emergency braking. Besides, tailgating can be very costly in Germany, especially on autobahns and expressways. German traffic authorities recommend one-half the speedometer reading in meters as a safe distance for following vehicles (for example, at 60 km/h, the recommended distance between vehicles is 30 meters). Greater distances should be used according to actual road conditions.

Another method for estimating a safe following distance from the vehicle in front is the "3-second method." Note a spot on the road (for example, a road post). When the vehicle in front of you passes that spot, start counting (one thousand one, one thousand two, one thousand three). If you pass that same spot before you finish counting to three, you are following too closely.

In inclement weather, a 4- to 5-second distance is recommended. It is necessary to constantly assess the road conditions and driving speed to determine a safe following distance from the car ahead.

11. Traffic Calming Zones / Traffic-Controlled Residential Areas

In German, they are called Verkehrsberuhigter Bereich or Spielstraße. In these areas, vehicle speed should be reduced to equal to the walking pace of people, as there can be children playing in the vicinity. Pedestrians and playing children have priority in this area, and drivers must yield to pedestrians and children playing on this street.

Sign 325.1

Start of the traffic-controlled residential area.

This sign appears at the entrance to a street on which pedestrians and playing children have priority.

Sign 325.2

This sign marks the end of the traffic-controlled residential area. Vehicles leaving these areas must yield to all other traffic.

In a traffic-controlled residential area:

The vehicle that exits a traffic calming zone (Spielstraße) must yield. Please see the below illustration.

An illustration showing the start and end of a Spielstraße

12. No Entry Signs / Prohibited Entry Signs

Roads with signs 250 or 267 are not allowed to enter.

Sign 250

This sign prohibits entry to all types of motor vehicles.

Sign 268

Compared to 250, this sign is stricter. It prohibits entry to all types of vehicles. It is installed at the terminus of one-way streets to prevent an approach to the one-way street from the wrong direction.

Sign 250 can be installed with numerous types of supplementary signs; for example, a sign reading Anlieger frei posted underneath sign 250 means that entry is permitted only to people who reside or have a business on this street.

Sign 250 with additional sign 1020-30

This sign states that only people who live here or own businesses on this street are permitted to enter.

Sign 250 with 1022-14

This sign prohibits entry to all types of vehicles except bicycles and mopeds.

To see a detailed list of German no-entry signs, please visit Important Road Signs. Pay attention to signs with the German word frei. It translates to "free" or "clear." Only cleared vehicles (written or drawn on the attached supplementary sign) may enter the roads with prohibited entry signs.

13. One-way Street (Einbahnstraße)

The German word "Einbahn" means "one-way". The term "Straße" translates to a "street" or "road." A one-way street (Einbahnstraße) is indicated by the sign 220. As discussed above, the opposite end of the one-way street has "no entry" or "prohibited entry" signs. Passing the streetcar/tram on a one-way street from either side is allowed.

Sign 220-10

One-way street

Sign 220-20

One-way street

When a one-way street ends and joins a two-way-street or road, there are three points to consider:

  1. Passing streetcars from the left side is no longer allowed.
  2. Parking on the left side of the street is no longer allowed.
  3. Turning left is no longer allowed if there is a solid or non-broken line.

For details about parking regulations on a one-way street, please visit the page Parking System in Germany.

14. German Railroad Crossing

Railroad crossing signs have four reach levels. The first one is installed at 240 meters before the crossing, the second at 160 meters, and the third at 80 meters. Then, at the actual point of crossing, there are yellow and red lights, a bell or alarm (some railway crossings do not have these), and crossbucks to indicate that the railroad crossing is active. When a train is approaching, a yellow light flashes, which is followed by a red light that stays lit until the train(s) have cleared the crossing. Vehicles may proceed when the flashing red light goes out.

The railroad crossing is 240 meters ahead.

The railroad crossing is 160 meters ahead.

The railroad crossing is 80 meters ahead.

When the railroad crossing is closed or a train is approaching, class 2 vehicles and vehicles with trailers are required by law to stop immediately after passing the single-stripe signpost (sign 162, posted at a distance of 80 meters). This requirement enables faster-moving vehicles to pass slower vehicles before reaching the crossing.

Older crossings have a single red light on a square backboard with a red and white border. If more than one train is coming, the bell changes in tone and a sign reading "2 Züge" flashes (this applies to old crossings only).

St. Andrew's cross with an old flashing light, alarm clock, and illuminated lettering on isolated paths.

Current style railroad crossing arrangement

After the railroad crossing, unless there is a speed limit sign, the national speed limit applies. That is, 50 km/h for built-up areas and 100 km/h outside built-up areas.

In some small villages, unguarded crossing might have just St. Andrews Cross (crossbucks), and no other indication, so drivers should approach railroad crossings carefully in villages.

Explore Other Topics