Right of Way, Right before Left and other Priority Rules in Germany
This page contains topics:
- Right-of-Way, General Rules
- Right-of-Way in Parallel Moving Traffic
- Right-of-Way while Changing Lanes
- Right-of-Way in Intersecting Traffic
- Right before Left
- Exceptions to Right before Left Rule
- Traffic Signs Regulating Right-of-Way
- Right-of-way on Curved Priority Roads
- Traffic Signals in Germany
- Rules for Pedestrians
- Roundabout Rules in Germany
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1. Right of Way
To understand the right of way, it does not matter where a road user wants to proceed, the only important is, where it comes from. Whether it comes from a priority road or from a green signal or from a road where a police officer is regulating the traffic. Right of way applies to all road users. No matter a car, a motorbike, a bicycle, a pedestrian, a hand-pushed non-motorized vehicle, etc.
General rules regulating right-of-way are:
- Buses pulling into traffic from marked bus stops have the right-of-way. Bus drivers indicate their intention to enter the flow of traffic with their turn signals.
- Funeral processions have the right-of-way over other traffic.
Emergency vehicles (ambulances, police cars, fire department vehicles, and other vehicles identifiable by their flashing blue lights and multitone warning signals) have special right-of-way privileges. Upon hearing multitone warning signals of emergency vehicles, drivers must pull over to the right and stop if necessary.
In an autobahn traffic jam (Stau) situation, drivers are required to move their vehicles to the extreme right or left (depending on the lane they are currently standing on) to permit the emergency vehicle to pass through the center of the congestion. On three-lane Autobahns, clearance (rescue alley) must be made between left and center lanes.
- Streetcars have priority over general traffic when tracks go through a traffic circle and sign 101 with a supplemental sign or sign 205 is posted with a silhouette of a streetcar with the word Straßenbahn or Straßenbahn Vorfahrt.
This is the general warning or danger sign. It indicates an approaching dangerous area, for example, road construction work. A supplementary sign may explain the danger. This sign is also posted before roads with streetcar tracks along with supplementary signs.
Yield Right-of-Way. This sign indicates driver must yield to traffic on the upcoming priority road. If necessary, come to a complete stop to allow traffic on the priority road to clear before proceeding.
2. Right-of-Way in Parallel Moving Traffic
Straight ahead moving traffic has priority over turning traffic, provided both are on the same road.
In the below illustration, Vehicle A wants to intersect vehicle B which is moving in its own lane. Vehicle B has the right-of-way in its lane and vehicle A must yield to vehicle B and also wait for the clear way after vehicle B before proceeding.
In an intersection or junction, the left turning vehicle must yield to the oncoming traffic.
The left-turning vehicle must yield to any oncoming traffic.
Similarly, if there is a bicycle lane or a bus lane on the right side of the same road, the right-turning vehicle must yield to the cyclist or bus, whatever the case.
The blue vehicle wants to turn right. It must yield to any cyclist in the bicycle lane.
Also, if there is a pedestrian marked way on the turn, the turning vehicle must yield to any pedestrian crossing the road. Pedestrians' road crossing rules on unmarked roads are explained under the separate heading.
Turning vehicles must yield to any pedestrian crossing the road.
Please notice that in the above illustration, the signal for the car is turned green, but also the signal for pedestrian crossing is green. Pedestrians are walking in their own lane and the car wants to cross their lane, so pedestrians have right of way and cross the road first then the vehicle would proceed.
If the green light for the car has an arrow (as displayed in the following illustration), then the vehicle may turn without considering pedestrians because the green arrow indicates all other signals are turned red in the given time.
A green arrow traffic light indicates that all other signals for the parallel traffic are now turned red.
In all the above cases, busses, cyclists, or pedestrians don't have any exceptional right-of-way. They are normal road users like any other vehicle. All these rules apply because they are moving parallel in their own lane and they have the right-of-way in their own lane over the intersecting traffic/road users.
If both of the vehicles have to turn to the same road, the left turning vehicle yield to the vehicle that has a right turn. Please see the below illustration.
Vehicle A has the right-of-way, and vehicle B must yield to vehicle A or any other vehicle following vehicle A.
3. Right of Way while Changing a Lane
The vehicle traveling in a lane has a right of way (Vorrang) in its own lane. When a vehicle from another lane turns on the indicator to change its lane, the lane-changer is actually "requesting" the vehicle behind him in the intended lane to give a place for the lane-change maneuver.
If a rear-end collision occurs, usually the liability is on the driver who has changed the lane. However, in some cases, a partial liability of the other driver may be present if, for example, he suddenly accelerated which the lane-changer could not foresee.
According to German road traffic regulations (StVO) page 7 para 5: In all cases, a lane may only be changed if a hazard to other road users is "excluded". Every lane change must be announced in an advanced time and clearly.
An exception is only for public buses when they want to depart from their marked stops. This is indicated on page 20 para 5 of StVO: "Public buses and school buses must be allowed to depart of marked stops when they turn on their signals. If necessary, other vehicles must wait." Trams in the city come under the same rule as buses, so they are automatically included in the above exception.
4. Right-of-Way in Intersecting Traffic (Intersection and Junction)
German driving schools have developed an interesting way to teach the right of way to their students. The following Pyramid from top to bottom shows how the right of way is implemented.
The Priority Pyramid
As the above pyramid shows a police officer standing on the road and regulating the traffic has the topmost priority to establish the right of way for traffic. For example, if a police officer regulating the traffic, signals a vehicle stopped at a red signal to drive on, the vehicle must follow the officer's instructions and ignore the red signal. But that is very rare and police officers come to control the traffic in only an emergency situation.
Next on the priority list comes the traffic signals. Which have priority over traffic signs.
In the absence of a traffic light or traffic sign on an intersection or junction, the "right before left" rule becomes automatically applicable.
The above pyramid, from bottom to top is discussed in detail below.
5. Right before Left
The "right before left" rule is applicable in intersections and junctions (a place where vehicles have to cross perpendicular to each other).
If there are no traffic signs or signals in an intersection or junction, a vehicle approaching from the right has the right-of-way over a vehicle on its left. Please see the below examples.
5.1 Examples of Right before Left Rule
In the illustration below, vehicle A comes from the right of vehicle B.
The vehicle B comes from the left for vehicle A.
There are no traffic signals or traffic signboards. In this case, the rule "right before left" is applied. So, vehicle A has the priority.
It does not matter if any of the vehicles want to turn or not, vehicle A comes from the right and must be allowed to proceed first.
Vehicle A has the right-of-way according to right before left rule.
It does not matter how wide a road is. The width of the road does not say anything about the right-of-way / priority laws.
When there are three vehicles in an intersection. It doesn't matter where they want to proceed. As discussed at the beginning of this page, the only important thing in the right-of-way is, from where a road user comes. They must follow the following sequences according to the right before left rule.
Vehicle A has the right-of-way according to right before left. Then vehicles B and C cross the intersection respectively.
In the above illustration, vehicle A crosses the intersection first as it has no vehicle coming from its right.
When vehicle A is gone, the vehicle B has no right neighbor and is allowed to advance.
Finally, the vehicle C is left and may cross the intersection.
Of course, a situation can arrive when vehicles can come from all four directions. Please see the illustration below.
In the above situation, each vehicle has a vehicle on its right. One vehicle must renounce its right-of-way and the driver should give a hand signal. The vehicle that gives up its right-of-way can only allow or signal a vehicle on its left to proceed because the vehicle on the right side already has a right-of-way over the left one.
For example, vehicle D can only signal vehicle A, as vehicle D has the right-of-way over A. Once vehicle D has cleared the way, the rest of the vehicles can proceed according to the right before left rule.
The right-before-left rule is only considered when a route crosses another route. For example, in the following situation, there is no consideration of right-of-way or priority because both vehicle,s routes are not crossing.
No vehicle's course is crossing any other vehicle's course, so no consideration for the right before left rule or right of way.
6. Exceptions to Right before Left
Right before left rule is not applicable in the following situations:
- When a vehicle comes from a field, forest, or meadow path.
- When a vehicle comes from a property entrance.
- When a vehicle comes from the edge of the bicycle lane or another part of the same road. (When a vehicle changes its lane on the same roadway.)
- When a vehicle enters a road from a road shoulder or ramp.
- When a vehicle comes from a traffic-calming zone (Spielstraße) or a pedestrian zone. Please see the below illustration.
Illustration showing the start and end of a Spielstraße
7. Traffic Signs Regulating Right-of-Way
There are four main traffic signs that regulate the right of way on crossings or intersections in absence of traffic lights.
Yield right-of-way! Drivers must yield to the traffic on the crossing priority road. This is the only upside down red triangle road sign. So, it can also be recognized from the backside.
Stop and yield right of way! The driver must completely stop the vehicle at this sign and yield to traffic on the priority road. This sign implements "yield right of way" more strictly than the previous one.
Priority Road Sign
This sign indicates that this road has priority, "only" at the next coming crossing or intersection.
This road has priority at all coming intersections or crossings till sign 307 cancels the priority.
This sign marks the end of a Priority Road.
If there are traffic signs installed in an intersection or crossing, the right before left rule is no more applicable. In the case of sign 205
Yield signs and priority road signs installed at an intersection.
The priority road sign is posted before the intersection inside buildup areas and after the intersection outside buildup areas. The stop sign is often assisted by a thick white line, called stop line (Haltelinie). Driver must stop the vehicle before this stop line before proceeding.
Some traffic signal posts can also have traffic signs attached to them. It can be on the top of traffic lights, below the lights, or attached to the side of the lights. These traffic lights are turned off at night, that's why they have traffic signs attached to them. In normal daylight conditions when signal lights are working, they have priority over traffic signboards attached to them. After the traffic lights have been switched off or the yellow light is blinking, vehicles must follow the signs attached to the traffic light post.
Signal turned Red with a Priority Road Sign.
Signal turned Green with a Stop Sign.
In the above illustration, although the signal shows the green light but there is also a stop sign attached to it. As long as the signal is switched on and working its lights have priority over the sign attached to it. After the signal is switched off, the sign shows that traffic on this road must yield to the traffic on the priority road.
8. Kinked or Curved Priority Road
Curved/turning priority road has a supplementary sign attached to the main priority road sign which shows the course of the priority road. The thick curve in the supplementary sign indicates the course of the priority road.
Indicates that traffic on the priority road (indicated by the wide, curved black line) has the right-of-way at the next junction.
Another example of a turning priority road. The thick curved line is the priority road while the thinner lines show non-priority roads. In reality, however, a non-priority road could be wider than the priority road. So, the actual width of a road doesn't establish its priority.
Please note that the vehicle following the course of a curved priority road must also blink.
An example illustration of a curved priority road.
In the above illustration, the general right before left rule is not applicable because the priority is assigned through signboards and road markings. Traffic coming from road A and road D has the right of way.
The intersection in this example has road markings, but there can be some intersections without lines or road markings, so the driver must pay attention to signboards, for example, in the winter months road markings may be hidden under snow.
8.1 Traffic Rules at an Intersection on a Curved Priority Road
In the situation illustrated below, a vehicle from road A wants to drive to the road C and at the same time, a vehicle from the road D also wants to drive to the road B.
In between roads A and road D, right before left rule applies because both of the roads are at the same priority level.
If the intersecting roads have the same level of priority, the right before left rule is applied. The vehicle coming from road A has priority over the vehicle approaching from the road D, as road A is on the right of road D. The same rule applies if both vehicles want to drive to road B or road C simultaneously.
In the second situation illustrated below, there is no vehicle on the priority road, a vehicle from the road B wants to drive to the road D and at the same time, a vehicle from the road C wants to drive to road A.
In between roads B and road C, the right before left applies because both are at the same priority level.
The vehicle coming from road C has priority over the vehicle coming from road B, as road C is on the right of road B. The same rule applies if both of the vehicles want to drive to road A or road D simultaneously.
9. Traffic Signals in Germany
Basic traffic signals in Germany are the same red, yellow and green. However, there is a special sequence to consider from red to green and then backward from green to red. This sequence is common among many other European countries.
From red to green
1. Red light is the stoplight and next comes red and yellow lights simultaneously.
2. Red and yellow turn off and the green light turns on.
From green to red
1. Green light turns off and yellow turns on.
2. Yellow turns off and red turns on.
Sequence from red to green
Sequence from green to red
So, if a vehicle comes around a corner and the driver sees a yellow light, he/she must be ready to stop. As after only yellow light comes the red. If both yellow and red lights are on, they indicate next will be the green.
9.1 Left Turn on Green
At an intersection, while turning left on the green signal, a vehicle must yield to the oncoming traffic, because the parallel traffic has right of way in its own lane.
Left turn: yield on green
9.2 Left Turn on Red
Left turns on a red light are allowed only in a one-way-street.
9.3 Right Turn on Red
No right turn on red sign! There are rules for turning right on red. A right turn on red is allowed only under two conditions.
- If there a green arrow attached next to the red light.
- If there is another traffic signal attached next to the right of the main signal and the green arrow traffic light is turned on. Please see the following illustrations.
1. Traffic signal with a green arrow
It is legal to make a right turn on red, if a green arrow is attached next to the red light.
2. Traffic signal with a supplementary signal
A right turn on red is allowed if there is a supplementary traffic signal next to the main signal and the green arrow light is on.
In the first situation, when a green arrow is attached to the right side of the red traffic light, turning right is allowed but the driver should stop and look for a clear way before proceeding. Also, look for bicycles on the right and any pedestrian, if there is a crosswalk. This green arrow doesn't symbolize right-of-way. It just allows turning carefully. This sign is attached to the top corner of the traffic light signal, exactly in front of the red light.
The second condition for the right turn on red is an additional traffic signal attached to the right of the main signal. This additional signal has only two lights i.e. green and red. When the green arrow light on this additional signal is on, that means all other traffic signals for the parallel traffic are now red.
It means when the green arrow traffic light is on, any bicycle lane has red, any pedestrian's crosswalk has red, or any other traffic light on the right has red and the way is clear. Please check the difference between the attachment positions of this additional signal and the above-explained green arrow sign on the traffic signal.
10. Rules for Pedestrians on the Road
Road markings and signals for pedestrians have already been explained in the above topic. This topic explains situations without road markings and signals.
Pedestrians are also normal road users they don't have any special right-of-way, and there are rules regarding crossing the road. These are explained in the following example situations. These example situations are illustrated below at intersections. The traffic in these illustrations includes cars, cyclists, and pedestrians.
These example situations are illustrated below at intersections. The traffic in these illustrations includes cars, cyclists, and pedestrians. "straight-ahead moving traffic has priority over turning traffic, provided both are on the same road".
10.1 Situation 1
Vehicle A and Vehicle B must yield to pedestrian C and cyclist D
In the above illustration, vehicle A and Vehicle B from road 2 want to turn to road 1. Pedestrian C and cyclist D are also moving on road 2 and want to go straight ahead on road 2. Road users A and B want to cross the lanes of road users C and D. Both C and D have the right-of-way in their own lanes over any intersecting traffic. So both vehicles, A and B must yield to C and D.
10.2 Situation 2
Both vehicles have priority in this situation
The Right-Before-Left rule does not apply to pedestrians. So, a pedestrian coming from the right side of a vehicle has no priority. The only applicable rule in this situation is "Right-of-Way in Parallel Moving Traffic" (Vorrang). Pedestrian C would need a pedestrian crosswalk (zebra crossing) to have a right-of-way over vehicle A. Same is the case for pedestrian D.
Vehicle B has priority over pedestrian D as the pedestrian is coming from a different road than the car, so no priority.
Similarly, Vehicle A has priority over pedestrian C, because C is coming from a different road.
10.3 Situation 3
First pedestrian C crosses the road then vehicle B turns to road 1, and finally the pedestrian A crosses the road.
Pedestrian C and vehicle B are moving on the same road 2, so pedestrian C has priority over vehicle B. Pedestrian A comes from a different road, that's why vehicle B has priority over him.
Vehicle B is leaving road 2 and entering road 1.
According to "Right-of-Way in Parallel Moving Traffic" (Vorrang),
- left-turning traffic must yield to oncoming traffic.
- However, in the case of pedestrian traffic, any left or right turning traffic must yield to pedestrians on that road.
Pedestrian A would need the pedestrian crosswalk (zebra crossing) to have a priority over vehicle B.
10.3.1 Situation 3.1
It does not matter the road continues or ends. At the T-intersection below, it's the same order as described above at the intersection with crossing roads.
Exactly as in the above situation (3.1), first pedestrian C crosses the road then vehicle B turns to road 1 and finally pedestrian A crosses the road.
10.3.2 Situation 3.2
If the vehicle is taking a right turn, the same rule follows. Please see the illustration below.
Again the same situation. The only difference is that the vehicle is turning right this time. First pedestrian C crosses the road then vehicle B turns to road 1 and finally the pedestrian A crosses the road.
10.3.3 Situation 3.3
Or the direction of pedestrians should not create any confusion. Below is another variation of the above-explained situation.
Again the same situation. The only difference is the direction change in pedestrian C movement. First pedestrian C crosses the road then vehicle B turns to road 1 and finally pedestrian A crosses the road.
11. Roundabout rules in Germany
- The roundabout sign (sign 215) is always posted before the start of a roundabout, underneath the "yield" sign (sign 205). This indicates the traffic entering a roundabout must yield to the traffic already moving in the roundabout. Inside the roundabout, there are no extra signs.
- Inside the roundabout, parking or stopping is prohibited.
- A roundabout must be approached from the right side.
- Any vehicle leaving the roundabout must use its turn signals. A vehicle entering the roundabout should not use turn signals. If you blink while entering a roundabout, the following driver might think you want to leave the roundabout straight away.
- Vehicles leaving the roundabout must yield to the pedestrians and cyclists who want to cross the road. Vehicles entering a roundabout have right-of-way over any crossing pedestrian or cyclist.
- If a crossing looks like a roundabout or traffic circle but has no roundabout signs, it's not a roundabout. It is just a simple intersection. The right-before-left rule applies in such kind of a round looking intersection.
Sign 215 with sign 205, indicating approach of a roundaboud
Vehicle B must blink. Vehicle A should not blink.
The red car is leaving the roundabout and has to intersect the pedestrian moving in the same direction straight ahead. So this car must yield to the pedestrian. The yellow car enters the circle. It has a right-of-way over the pedestrian because he comes from another street. The pedestrian would need the pedestrian crosswalk (zebra crossing) to have priority over the yellow car.
This is not a roundabout. There are no roundabout signs. It is a round intersection. Vehicle A has right-of-way according to the right-before-left rule.
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