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Safety Plan

Take time to review your APP

Click for more information on safety plan (APP) development (194 KB)

How to develop an effective safety committee (305 KB)

Incident Investigation

How to investigate an incident (263 KB)

Incident investigation checklist (201 KB)

Index of safety plan (under construction)

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Check out Washington's workers' compensation Rates Watch for information on why it's important to manage your workers' compensation claims.


Tune up your safety plan

First, look back over the previous year and review the activities you carried out. Then, to keep your safety program effective, review the past year to make sure that your program includes best practices and then see what you might need to add.

Were new employees:

  • Given a safety orientation?
  • Informed of reporting requirements for injuries and illness?
  • Told what to do in emergencies and how to report hazardous conditions?

What about your safety committee or safety meetings? Did you document the issues your employees brought up and track them to resolution? Were minutes of the meetings prepared and attendance taken? Each of these activities demonstrates management’s involvement and support for safety.

Does your safety program need changes? Based on research on distracted driving, the U.S. Department of Transportation recently banned texting while driving a truck or bus. Does your company have a policy on this and other forms of distracted driving? If not, perhaps now is the time to draft one and implement it. Ask your drivers to give you feedback on the policy to make it better.

You could just continue with the status quo for your safety program, but then your program falters and becomes harder to maintain. Just like keeping your fleet in tune for best performance, a tune up of your safety program keeps it effective.


Driving on the Autobahn

Seven rules for driving on the autobahn

The autobahn in Germany, Austria and Switzerland can be a fun, fast way to reach your destination – or a frustrating traffic jam (Stau) experience. This guide is designed to help you make your autobahn experience as positive as possible. Below we present our “German Way Autobahn Rules” – the most important rules of the road for driving on the autobahn and other European limited-access highways.

Austrian Autobahn warning sign

“Wrong way!” An autobahn warning sign in Austria. PHOTO: Hyde Flippo

The Rules of the Autobahn

If you are used to driving on interstate highways and freeways in the US, you need to know about the differences between US traffic laws and those in Germany and Europe. When driving in Germany, you need to drive like a German – at least like the good German drivers. That means not only knowing the rules (official and unofficial), but adapting to a different style of driving. Europeans, Germans in particular, have a more aggressive approach to driving. If you remain a typical, more laid-back American driver, you could have problems. You also need to be alert and pay even more attention to the road than required in the US. The high-speed autobahn is no place to make mistakes!

  • GW Autobahn Rule 1: No passing on the right!
    The first thing any driver needs to know about the rules of the autobahn is that passing on the right is verboten! It is illegal to pass a vehicle on the right. You must move into a left lane in order to pass. (The only exception is when traffic is moving at a very slow rate of speed, such as during a traffic jam.) The pass-on-the-left-only rule is one of the things that make the autobahn work.
  • GW Autobahn Rule 2: Double check your side-view mirror before moving into the left lane!
    Always check your left side-view mirror! Especially on sections of the autobahn with no speed limit, this is critical. Speeding cars can sudddenly appear out of nowhere and zoom past you at speeds exceeding 100 mph. You may be doing the “recommended” speed of 130 km/h (80 mph) and see German drivers passing you as if you were standing still.
    • GW Autobahn Rule 3: Slower traffic stays to the right!
      As in the US, whenever possible, move into the right lane. Most German drivers are good about this, but some non-German drivers are not. If you are passing several vehicles in a row (usually trucks), you can stay left or in the middle lane, but as soon as there is space, move right. If you see a vehicle coming up from behind you at a higher rate of speed, signal and move over. Don’t be surprised if they flash their high beams. It’s common and only considered mildly rude. Just move over.
    • GW Autobahn Rule 4: Always use your blinkers!
      German drivers use their signal lights to indicate a lane change, and so should you. German-made cars have blinker controls that make the turn signal blink three times and then shut off automatically. A slight nudge on the control lever activates that feature. A stronger push activates the normal turn signals that you have to turn off, or that turn off after a right or left turn.
    • GW Autobahn Rule 5: Obey the speed limit!
      Contrary to popular myth, there are speed limits on the autobahn. While there are still a few stretches of autobahn where it is legal to put the pedal to the metal and drive at top speed, those sections are limited, and growing more limited by the year.* While it may be legal, it may not be wise. You will also see square blue signs with white numbers reading “130” in Germany. That means 130 km/h (80 mph), the recommended top speed on the German autobahn (and the legal maximum speed on motorways in most European countries). The legal speed limit is a black number on a round white sign outlined in red (see sign images below). Sometimes there are also overhead electronic signs indicating the speed limit and warnings. Many autobahn sections have limits of 120 km/h (75 mph), 110 km/h (68 mph) or lower, especially in urban areas. Germany uses unmarked police cars and automated roadside radar/photo devices that take pictures of violators. Yes, you will see scofflaws who blatantly exceed the posted limit, but it can be expensive if you join them and get caught. – See more about speed limits below.
    • GW Autobahn Rule 6: Take a break every two hours!
      Driving on the autobahn can be draining. After two hours or so, it’s wise to take a break. The autobahn has rest stops (Raststätten) with gas stations, restaurants, shops, picnic tables and toilets (with an entrance fee of 70 euro cents!). There are also more modest stops along the way with just picnic tables and parking. Take advantage of these for occasional breaks from driving.
    • GW Autobahn Rule 7: Go with the flow!
      German drivers can be aggressive on the autobahn. When they pass you and suddenly cut in front of you, with a much smaller comfort zone than is normal in North America, don’t take it personally. It is just the way they drive. You’d think that for all the money it can cost to get a German driver’s license (up to $3,000!), they would be better drivers. Well, for Germany, they are, and you can’t change that. Just learn to go with the flow and realize that you are not in North America. – Also see:
      How to Get a German Driver’s License.

    *Advocating autobahn speed limits in Germany is like advocating tougher gun-control laws in the US – and just about as likely.

    Autobahn Signs
    Autobahn sign 1
    Speed limit
    Autobahn sign 2
    End of speed limit
    Autobahn sign 3
    Advised speed limit
    Autobahn sign 4
    No speed limit
    Autobahn sign 5
    No passing
    Autobahn sign 6
    End of no passing
    Sign images from Wikimedia Commons
    Some More Autobahn Advice

    “Stau” Warnings
    Unfortunately, construction delays and traffic jams are also part of driving on the autobahn. If you understand German, most German radio stations announce the location and length of traffic jams (Staus, pron. SHTOWS, rhymes with “cows”). It is not uncommon for such congestion to stretch out for many kilometers.

    Some GPS units (a GPS is called a Navi in German, pron. NAH-vee), can also identify traffic problems and route you around them. Bring your own Navi or rent one with your rental car. If you bring your own, make sure it has updated maps for Europe.

    Speed Limit Signs in Germany
    In Europe, including Germany, you will rarely see warnings like “reduced speed ahead.” One minute you may be doing 130 km/h, and suddenly you see a 110 limit sign. You are expected to pay attention to the posted limits. Approaching a construction zone (or on exits in France), you will see a series of speed limit signs, usually starting with 100, (62 mph) then another sign with 80 (50 mph), then another with 60 (35 mph). You can’t resume speed until you see an end-of-speed-limit sign or a new posted speed. See the sign examples above.

    Paying for Gasoline (Benzin)
    At autobahn and other gas stations, you pump gas (or diesel) and then go inside to pay the cashier. (Lock your car and leave it at the pump, since no one can pump gas there until you’ve paid.) The cashier will ask for your pump number (You do know your German numbers up to 10, right?), so note that before you go inside. You can pay cash or use a credit card. Some stations require pre-payment during late hours, but usually you pay after you pump. Non-autobahn stations in Germany may or may not accept card payment. Look for the usual credit card logos at the door or by the register. (The EC card is not a credit card; it is a bank debit card for European residents only.)

    Credit card readers at the pump (pay-at-the-pump) seem to be a thing of the past in Germany. I never found one on my last trip. I always had to go inside and pay the cashier, whether cash or credit.




Driving in Germany: Green Zones

Environmental Zones • Low Emission Zones (LEZ) • Umweltzonen

A 2006 anti-air-pollution law began a process that now requires drivers in Germany to have a special environmental sticker (Umweltplakette) on their car in order to enter the “green zone” of many German cities and towns.


Driving in many German cities now requires a special sticker in order to enter the “Umweltzone,” the environmental zone.

This law applies to anyone driving in Germany, whether a resident or a foreigner. Even if the car meets German/EU pollution standards, a driver can still be fined if there is no sticker on the car’s windshield. If you have a rental car, make sure it has the proper sticker before you try to drive into a city center with environmental restrictions. You’ll see a sign similar to the one pictured above.

German lawmakers passed the 2006 law after Germany failed to meet EU pollution standards for fine particulates (Feinstaub). Three German cities (Berlin, Cologne, Hanover) first introduced restricted environmental zones in January 2008. Since then, more and more cities and towns all across Germany have been added to the list of places that have Umweltzonen, and that list will grow in coming years. (See a partial list at the end of this article.)

green sticker

Some environmental zones now require a green sticker.

Green Means Go
Currently there are three different colored emission stickers. A green one certifies that a vehicle meets the highest environmental standards. A yellow sticker is for less compliant vehicles (usually diesel or older gasoline-powered). A red one is for the lowest level. The yellow and red stickers are only temporary and will eventually be phased out. After that, all vehicles will have to have a green sticker in order to enter a city’s Umweltzone. Various cities have different deadlines for when only a green sticker will allow a vehicle to enter an environmental zone. Several German cities began requiring a green sticker for zone entry beginning in 2011. Others began a green sticker requirement in 2012.

A sign will indicate which color sticker a vehicle must have in order to enter the environmental zone. Most newer cars with a catalytic converter will qualify for a green sticker, but the sticker must be on the car’s windshield in order to avoid a 40 euro fine. Whether your car can pass a pollution test or not is irrelevant. No sticker, no entry!

How to get an Umweltplakette (Feinstaubplakette)

If you are renting a car in Europe and plan to drive in Germany, make sure your vehicle has a green sticker on its windshield. The rental agency should provide it. Even many smaller towns all across Germany now have green zones! Otherwise, the easiest way to get your Umweltplakette is from the TÜV, either at a local inspection station or online at (south) or (north). Both sites have English instructions. You will need your vehicle emissions key number (Schlüsselnummer). An environmental sticker is valid for the life of the vehicle.
Vehicles registered in Germany: €6.00 (incl. VAT)
Foreign vehicles: €12.50
For more information, see the web links at the bottom of this page.

Cities with Environmental Zones (Partial List)
The following German cities and towns had restricted environmental zones as of 2012 (in alphabetical order):
Augsburg, Berlin, Bochum, Bonn, Bottrop, Bremen, Dortmund, Duisburg, Düsseldorf, Erfurt (Oct. 2012), Essen, Frankfurt am Main, Freiburg (Breisgau), Gelsenkirchen, Halle (Saale), Hanover, Heidelberg, Herrenberg, Ilsfeld, Karlsruhe, Köln (Cologne), Leipzig, Leonberg, Ludwigsburg, Mannheim, Mühlacker, Mülheim an der Ruhr, München (Munich), Münster, Neu-Ulm, Neuss, Nürnberg (Nuremberg), Oberhausen, Osnabrück, Pfinztal, Pforzheim, Pleidelsheim, Recklinghausen, Reutlingen, Schwäbisch-Gmünd, Stuttgart, Tübingen, Ulm, Wuppertal.

Many other German cities will introduce environmental zones in coming years. For a current list and map of cities, see: (in English). Other EU nations are also introducing low emission zones. For more, see Low Emission Zones in the EU (, includes Germany). See more related web links below.



Driving in Europe

For Americans and Canadians, driving in Europe presents no great difficulty, only some minor differences. Especially on the Autobahn, North American drivers need to be aware of a few variations in the rules of the road, but otherwise it’s not that different from driving in Canada or the USA. Our “Driving” pages tell you what you need to know to be a happy driver in German-speaking Europe.

Die Autobahn
A little history of the Autobahn and important information related to driving on the freeways/motorways of Austria, Germany and Switzerland.

Driving in Austria
The Austrian Autobahn toll sticker

Driving in Germany
General information and what you need to know about driving and the rules of the road in Germany and Europe – including ADAC, pro mille, TÜV, and other terms. Also see “Driving on the Autobahn” above.

Driving in Switzerland
The Swiss Autobahn toll sticker

Autobahn Tolls in Austria and Switzerland

Although Germany began charging an autobahn toll for trucks in 2003, passenger car drivers can still drive the Autobahn without any extra charges (so far). But neighboring Austria and Switzerland (plus France and other European countries) charge a Maut, or toll, for using their high-speed, limited access highways.

The Autobahn Toll Sticker
Rather than a kilometer-based turnpike toll, such as that exacted on France’s autoroutes or Italy’s autostradas, Switzerland was the first to charge motorists an annual flat fee for the use of its autobahn network. Austria later copied the idea, but also offered toll stickers for shorter periods of time, a nice benefit for the many tourists who visit Austria for only a few days, a week, or a month. (For information about the proposed new roadway tolls in Germany see below.)

Swiss autobahn toll sticker

A sample 2010 Swiss Autobahnvignette. Unlike Austria, Switzerland offers only an annual autobahn sticker that costs 40 Swiss francs ($40+ USD).

An Austrian or Swiss “Vignette” must be displayed on a car’s windshield. (Motorcycles are also subject to the autobahn sticker requirement. Trucks pay a kilometer-based toll.) Motorists entering Austria or Switzerland without a vignette must purchase one or be subject to heavy fines (see below). You’re okay if you stay off the autobahn or Schnellstraßen (limited-access roads), but that’s not easy to do. If you’re lucky, your rental car may already have one. If not, you will have to contribute 40 Swiss francs to the Swiss treasury upon entering that country. As in the USA, ignorance of the law is no excuse.

Unlike Switzerland, Austria permits drivers to purchase an Autobahnvignette for various periods of time, from ten days to a full year. The so-called Mautvignette (toll sticker) must be affixed to the inside of the front windshield. The stickers come in varying colors in different years, making it easier for the police to spot an invalid Autobahnpickerl, Austrian slang for “autobahn sticker.” To prevent misuse, the stickers are also designed to tear apart if removed from the window glass.

Austrian autobahn toll sticker

A 2011 Austrian 10-day “Autobahnpickerl” as it looks before being placed on the windshield. The color of the autobahn stickers changes each year. PHOTO © Hyde Flippo

Prices for an Austrian passenger-car vignette range from 8.00 euros (ca. $10) for a 10-day sticker to 77.80 euros ($96) for a year (for vehicles up to 3.5 tons).* Motor homes and large vehicles over 3.5 tons must have a so-called “GO-Box” that tracks your actual mileage. If you are caught without one, the fine is 220 euros. Motorists can obtain a GO-Box at the border for a five-euro fee. You can buy an Austrian or Swiss auto vignette at gas stations, border crossings, or post offices. It is also possible to purchase a Swiss autobahn sticker in advance, online from the German postal service (Deutsche Post), from automobile clubs, and the Swiss Tourism office in London. Tip: Sometimes people sell extra, unused vignettes on eBay or other online auction sites.

In addition to the normal autobahn sticker, there are tolls for several stretches on the Austrian highway network. Examples include the Brenner Pass autobahn (€8.00), the Tauern autobahn (€10.00), and the Arlberg tunnel (€8.50). Driving through the Felbertauern tunnel costs €10.00, while the scenic Großglockner Alpine road will set you back €26.00. (Prices subject to change.)

The fine in Austria for driving on the autobahn without a valid sticker: 400-4000 euros (ca. $500-$5000). That does not include the toll surcharge penalty (€120/$148) that must be paid at the same time.* That means the minimum fine could cost you more than six times as much as the cost of an annual Austrian autobahn sticker!

In Switzerland, drivers caught driving on the autobahn without a sticker have to pay a fine of 100 Swiss francs plus 40 francs for the vignette (a total of about $144 USD).*

For more information (in German), see the Web links below.

Germany’s Proposed New Autobahn Toll

In early July 2014 German Transport Minister Alexander Dobrindt announced a new roadway toll scheme that would make Germany one of the last European nations to charge motorists a special fee to use its high-speed autobahns. The new levy would not start before 2016, but is projected to raise 2.5bn euros ($3.4bn, £1.98bn) over four years. The proposed new toll (Maut in German) would apply to all roadways in Germany, not just the country’s famous autobahn network.

As in neighboring Austria and Switzerland, vehicles will be issued windshield sticker permits. As in Austria (but not in Switzerland), short-term stickers will be available for foreign drivers. A German toll sticker for 10 days will set you back 10 euros. An annual permit will cost about 100 euros, although these rates are still subject to change.

Because German motorists are to be compensated through a vehicle registration tax rebate, the proposed German system may violate EU law. Austria and the Netherlands have already complained about the German proposal being a violation of EU anti-discrimination laws. Motorists living in Austria, the Netherlands, and other EU countries must pay for autobahn permits in their respective countries, without any compensation or rebates.

Germans have long complained of having to pay to drive on the autobahn in neighbouring Austria and Switzerland, while motorists from those countries pay nothing to drive in Germany. But the proposed German toll would apply to all roads and highways in Germany, not just the autobahns – which would become turnpikes rather than freeways if Dobrindt’s proposal becomes law.


National Transport
The Autobahn


Autobahn photo 

The Autobahn from the driver's view

The Autobahn is the pinnacle of the German driving experience, perhaps the ultimate in driving altogether.  Virtually all of the world's serious drivers have heard of it and longed to take their shot at conquering it.  Teutonic cars are known for their precise engineering and craftsmanship; the Autobahn completes the driving equation.

Some people are disappointed the first time they drive on the Autobahn.  They come with visions of a twenty-lane superhighway where cars are barely a blur as they whiz by.  In reality, the Autobahn looks like a typical freeway, and despite rumors to the contrary, not everyone is hurtling along at the speed of sound.  The stories of speed anarchy are only half correct-- many sections of Autobahn do in fact have speed limits.

Still, the Autobahn offers the transcendent driving experience.  The roads are superbly designed, built and maintained, even now in the east where the German government had to undo 40 years of Communist "maintenance".  Amenities are numerous, and drivers are well-trained and cooperative.  It's literally life in the fast lane on the Autobahn.  (Don't tell me you didn't see that coming. <g>)


What is widely regarded as the world's first motorway was built in Berlin between 1913 and 1921.  The 19 km long AVUS ("Automobil-Verkehrs- und Übungsstraße") in southwestern Berlin was an experimental highway that was (and occasionally still is) used for racing.  It featured two 8 meter lanes separated by a 9 meter wide median.  Italy built several expressways in the 1920s and Germany followed with its first "auto-only roads" opening in 1929 between Düsseldorf and Opladen and in 1932 between Cologne and Bonn.  More routes were planned in the early '30s and Adolf Hitler, seeing the propaganda benefits of a high-speed road system, started a program to build two north-south and east-west links.  The first of these Reichsautobahnen opened on May 19th, 1935, between Frankfurt and Darmstadt.  At the end of World War II, the Autobahn network totaled 2,128 km.  Construction on new sections finally started again in 1953, with 144 km added between 1953 and 1958, bringing the total to 2,272 km.  Starting in 1959, West Germany began Autobahn expansion in earnest by embarking on a series of four-year plans that expanded the Bundesautobahnen system to 3,076 km by 1964.  Major additions continued during the next two decades and the system reached 4,110 km in 1970, 5,258 km in 1973, 6,207 km in 1976, 7,029 km in 1979, and 8,080 km in 1984.  A new series of five-year plans, with the goal of putting an Autobahn entrance within 10 km of any point in West Germany, had expanded the net to over 8,800 km by 1990.  The reunification of Germany in 1990, however, put those plans on hold as the federal government focused on absorbing and upgrading the Autobahns it inherited from East Germany.  The incorporation of those eastern Autobahns put the total Autobahn network at almost 11,000 km in 1992.  Additions to the unified network increased the total to 11,515 km in 2000 and 12,531 km in 2007.  Until 2000, the Autobahn was the world's second largest superhighway system after only the US Interstate System.  Today, however, the Autobahn network is the world's fourth largest singular superhighway system after China, the United States, and Spain.


Map of current Autobahn network

Early Autobahns were rather crude by today's standards.  The first Autobahns, like their Italian counterparts, featured limited-access and grade-separated crossings, but no medians.  The first Reichsautobahnen did have narrow medians but lacked shoulders, and ramps and waysides had cobblestone surfaces.  When Germany was reunified in 1989, the Autobahns of East Germany were in virtually the same condition as they were in 1945, exhibiting the aforementioned qualities as well as inadequate signing, infrequent (and often non-functional) emergency telephones frequently located in the center median, and service areas consisting of a dilapidated roadhouse next to a wayside.  Newer West German Autobahns had for many years featured 3.75 meter wide lanes, shoulders, landscaped medians with crash barriers, frequent roadside emergency telephones, and ample, well-adorned service areas.  After reunification, the German government expedited upgrading of the old East German Autobahns in a series of "German Unity Transport Projects."  By the end of 2009, the program was nearly completed with about 2,100 km of upgraded or newly-built Autobahn.


            section of Autobahn 

Typical section of Autobahn

The general rule for design is to provide for unimpeded, high-speed traffic flow.  Unimproved older segments aside, most Autobahns feature the following design elements:

  • Two, three, or occasionally four lanes per direction.  Lanes on rural sections are generally 3.75 meters wide except the left lane of newer three lane segments-- it's 3.5 meters wide.  On urban sections, all lanes are 3.5 meters wide.
  • A landscaped "green" median 3.5 or 4 meters wide (3 meters in urban areas).  A double-sided guardrail runs down the middle.  Blinders are often used on curves.  Some newer sections have concrete barriers instead of green medians.
  • Outside emergency shoulders and long acceleration and deceleration lanes.
  • Full grade-separation and access control, generally provided by half cloverleaf interchanges at exits and full cloverleafs or directional interchanges at Autobahn crossings.  Interchanges are generally well-spaced, sometimes exceeding 30 km between.
  • Grades of 4% or less.  Climbing lanes are provided on most steep grades.
  • Gentle and well-banked curves.
  • Freeze-resistant concrete or bituminous surface.
  • Roadbed and surface typically measuring about 75 cm (30 inches) in thickness.

In addition, Autobahns also feature the following amenities:

  • Reflector guide posts at 50 meter intervals.
  • Frequent parking areas, often equipped with toilet facilities.
  • Extensive and ample service areas featuring fuel stations, restaurants, and hotels.
  • Automated traffic and weather monitoring and electronic signs providing dynamic speed limits and/or advance warning of congestion, accidents, construction, and fog.
  • Emergency telephones at 2 km intervals.
  • Pre-signed detour routes to facilitate emergency closures.
  • Standardized signage.
  • Wildlife protection fencing, crossover tunnels and "green bridges".

Maintenance is superb.  Crews inspect every square meter of the system periodically using vehicles with high-tech road scanning equipment.  When a fissure or other defect is found, the entire road section is replaced.  Signs, barriers, and other features are also well maintained.

Urban Autobahns
Generally speaking, the mainline Autobahn routes avoid the metropolitan cores.  Instead, spur routes provide Autobahn access into and within the cities.  These spurs are usually built as "urban Autobahns" (Stadtautobahn).  Design features of urban Autobahns include six or eight lane elevated or depressed roadways with frequent and more closely-spaced diamond interchanges.  The standard rural signage standards are suspended in favor of more appropriate closely-spaced overhead signs.  There are sometimes no emergency phones or roadside reflector posts.  Tunnels, overpasses, and sound barriers are more frequent and nighttime illumination is often provided.

Tunnels and bridges
To help maintain safe grades, the Autobahn system is well-provisioned with tunnels and bridges.  So-called "valley bridges" (Talbrücke) are often over 500 meters high and sometimes over 1 kilometer long.  The Autobahn system now has over 65 tunnels, both through mountains as well as in urban areas.  As a result of the tunnel disasters elsewhere in Europe during the past decade, extra emphasis has been placed on tunnel safety.  All Autobahn tunnels have extensive safety systems including 24-hour monitoring, motorist information radio and signs, frequent refuge rooms with emergency telephones and firefighting equipment, emergency lighting and exits, and smoke ventilation systems.

Autobahn tunnelAutobahn valley bridge

Autobahn tunnel (left) and valley bridge (right)

Traffic regulations

To safely facilitate heavy, high-speed traffic, special laws apply when driving on the Autobahn:

  • Bicycles, mopeds, and pedestrians are specifically prohibited from using the Autobahn, as are any other vehicles with a maximum speed rating of less than 60 km/h (36 mph).
  • Passing on the right is strictly prohibited!  Slower vehicles must move to the right to allow faster traffic to pass, and drivers should stay in the right lane except to pass.  When passing, you must do so as quickly as possible, and it's in your best interest to do so lest you become a hood ornament on that Porsche that was just a speck in your mirror a second ago and now is close enough for you to see the look of distain on the driver's face.  You are, however, allowed to pass on the right in heavy traffic when vehicles have started queuing, but only at a slow speed.  You may also pass on the right while you are still in the designated acceleration lane upon entering the Autobahn.
  • Stopping, parking, U-turns, and backing-up are strictly verboten, including on shoulders and ramps (except for bonafide emergencies of course.)
  • Entering and exiting is permitted only at marked interchanges.
  • Traffic entering the Autobahn must yield to traffic already on the Autobahn.
  • On Autobahn sections with three travel lanes, trucks over 3.5 tonnes and any vehicle with a trailer are prohibited from using the far left lane.
  • During traffic jams, motorists in the left lane are required to move as far to the left as possible and those in the adjacent center or right lane must move as far to the right in their lane as possible, thus creating a gap (Rettungsgasse) between the lanes for emergency vehicles to pass through.
  • If you have a breakdown or accident, you must move to the shoulder if possible and place a warning triangle 200 meters behind the scene.  You must report the incident to the authorities using the nearest emergency phone (see below).
  • It is illegal to run out of fuel on the Autobahn.  Technically, there is no law specifically against this, but it is illegal to stop unnecessarily on the Autobahn and this law is also applied to people who run out of fuel as such an occurrence is deemed to be preventable.
  • There are no tolls for passenger vehicles to use the Autobahn.  However, trucks now must pay a per-kilometer fee.  This fee is collected electronically.

In addition to the official laws, most drivers follow the following customs:

  • Motorists at the rear of a traffic jam usually switch on their hazard blinkers to warn approaching traffic of the slowdown.
  • Many drivers flash their high beams ("Lichthupe", or "light honking") or switch on their left turn signal to politely (or not) request that you vacate the left lane to let them pass.  There are conflicting opinions about whether this is legal or not and why, but there are reports that drivers have been cited for doing this.  So while there is no specific law regarding this, it appears that such actions can be construed to violate Germany's coercion laws, so do so at your own risk.


Four-lane Autobahn section

Speed limits

Despite the widespread belief of complete freedom from speed limits (and a lobbying effort that has the same influence and deep pockets as the American gun lobby), some speed regulations can be found on the Autobahns.  Many sections do indeed have permanent or dynamic speed limits ranging from 80 to 130 km/h (50-80 mph), particularly those with dangerous curves, in urban areas, near major interchanges, or with unusually constant heavy traffic.  In construction zones, the limit may be as low as 60 km/h (37 mph).  Also, some sections now feature nighttime and wet-weather speed restrictions, and trucks are always regulated (see table below).  That said, about two-thirds of the Autobahn network has no permanent speed limit, although there is always an advisory limit of 130 km/h (81 mph).  This recommendation is generally seen for what it is-- an attempt by the government to cover itself without having to upset millions of Porsche and BMW owners/voters.  However, if you exceed the advisory limit and are involved in an accident, you could be held responsible for some of the damages even if you are not at fault.

(These are "default" limits; where posted, signs override these limits)
130 km/h
                                    w/trailer Truck
Bus Truck with
80 km/h

Vehicles that are limited to a lower speed limit will usually have a decal resembling a speed limit sign displayed on the back of a vehicle indicating the speed it is authorized to travel depending on its specific characteristics.  In some cases, those vehicles may be authorized to travel slower or faster than the general limit and will display the appropriate decal indicating such.

Over 3,200 km of Autobahn now feature dynamic speed limits which are adjusted to respond to traffic, weather, and road conditions.  These speed limits and conditions are indicated using a rather elaborate system of electronic signs (see below).

A movement by the environmentalist Green party to enact a national speed limit has not made great strides.  The Greens claim that the high speeds contribute to air pollution which has caused widespread Waldsterben, or forest destruction.  As a result, some Autobahns in forest areas have seen new limits imposed, but a national limit remains unlikely, as demonstrated during the coalition government negotiations in 1998.  In those talks between the then-new Federal Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder's Social Democrat party and the Greens, one of the final points to be resolved was the Greens' desire for a nationwide 100 km/h speed limit on the Autobahns.  In the end, a compromise was struck whereby energy taxes would be raised and local governments could reduce speed limits on city streets, but no national Autobahn speed limit would be implemented.  Subsequent discussions by various groups of a possible blanket limit have met with immediate and formidable political resistance.

A national speed limit of 100 km/h (60 mph) was enacted in November 1973 during the energy crisis. It was repealed less than four months later.

In 2008, the federal city-state of Bremen enacted a 120 km/h speed limit on all Autobahns in that state, the first and thus far only federal state to do so.  However, in practice, this only affected 6 km of Autobahn as the remainder of the 60 km of Autobahn in that state already had speed limits in place.

Accident rates
Despite the prevailing high speeds, the accident, injury and death rates on the Autobahn are remarkably low.  The Autobahn carries about a third of all Germany's traffic, but injury accidents on the Autobahn account for only 6% of such accidents nationwide and less than 12% of all traffic fatalities were the result of Autobahn crashes (2009).  In fact, the annual fatality rate (2.7 per billion km in 2009) is consistently lower than that of most other superhighway systems, including the US Interstates (4.5 in 2009).  Furthermore, a 2005 study by the German government found that Autobahn sections without speed limits had the same accident rate as those with speed limits.

"End of all restrictions" sign, indicating the end of all
speed limit and passing restrictions


Because of Germany's location in central Europe, traffic on the Autobahn is generally quite heavy.  In 2008, motorists logged a staggering 225.3 billion kilometers on the Autobahn, averaging almost 50,000 vehicles per day on any given segment.  As a result, traffic jams (Stau) occur frequently on the Autobahn, especially on Fridays, Sundays, holidays, and anytime after an accident or during bad weather or construction.  Regional traffic reports, with a variety of names including Verkehrsmeldungen, Verkehrsdienst, Verkehrsfunk, and Stauschau, are excellent and are provided on most radio stations.  Germany is divided into several traffic reporting regions (Verkehrsrundfunkbereich); Sign 368 signs along the road indicate the local radio stations carrying the traffic reports for the region you are in.  You will need to have a working knowledge of German to understand them, though. 

In addition to radio traffic reports, many sections of Autobahn are equipped with traffic monitoring systems and electronic signs (see below) to warn of downstream incidents or congestion and to provide a controlled reduction in the speed of traffic as it approaches the jam.  On sections without electronic signs, the Autobahn police (Autobahnpolizei) do an excellent job of warning of unexpected jams via portable roadside signs, signs mounted on police cars parked along the shoulder, or on banners draped from overpasses.  Traffic information is also available from several other resources including the websites of radio and TV stations, auto clubs, and government agencies, and increasingly through on-board telematics systems.

            weekend and holiday Autobahn traffic

Typical weekend and holiday Autobahn traffic

A couple of notes about traffic reports: sometimes the "traffic report" may include information that has nothing to do with traffic such as emergency alerts, police bulletins, etc.  Also, if you have a German rental car with a cassette or CD player, don't be surprised if your favorite tape or disc is interrupted by reports of a Stau somewhere-- German radio tuners continue to monitor the last-selected radio station even when a tape or CD is being played.  Radio stations broadcast a special tone at the start of traffic reports which causes the tuner to switch the audio from the tape or CD to the radio so that you can hear the information.  Traffic reports use one of several terms to describe varying levels of congestion: "Stau" usually means a colossal traffic jam where you'll probably get to know the people in the cars around you, "stockender Verkehr" indicates the only slightly more tolerable stacking or slow-and-go type traffic, while "dichter Verkehr" or "zähfliesender Verkehr" denotes the hardly-noteworthy heavy or sluggish but moving traffic.

As a stopgap measure to help improve traffic flow, traffic is now being permitted to use the emergency shoulder as a traffic lane during congested periods along some sections of Autobahn.  Lane control signals, Sign 223.10 signs, or other cars doing so indicate when this is permissible.

            shoulder open to traffic

Congested Autobahn with shoulder open to traffic


Construction & closures

Autobahn maintenance and improvements don't escape the German penchant for obsessiveness.  As a result, construction zones (Baustelle) are frequent and widespread.  The standard protocol for large projects is a traffic shift-- the lanes for both directions are narrowed and crammed onto one side of the Autobahn so that the other side can be worked on in its entirety.  Such situations are well-marked with Sign 501.11 signs and speed limits are usually reduced greatly in these areas.

            construction area

Autobahn construction area

Note the yellow road markings. These supersede all regular markings in work zones.

In the event that a segment of Autobahn must be closed due to an accident or other emergency, pre-posted provisional detours are ready to guide traffic around the closure.  As you exit, look for the U-numbered Sign 460 detour sign on the exit ramp-- this denotes the detour route for that exit.  Follow the same-numbered route over the secondary roads and you'll eventually arrive at the next downstream entrance ramp.  If that entrance is also closed, just follow the next sequential detour number to reach the next entrance after that.  However, there is one small gotcha-- odd numbers continue in one direction, even numbers in the opposite direction.  So if you're following an odd numbered route, be sure to follow the next sequential odd number (and, obviously the same goes for even-numbered routes.)  These routes also come in quite handy if your patience runs-out and you want to get around a Stau.

Service areas

The Autobahn has an extensive system of service areas (Rasthof, Raststätte) generally spaced between 40 and 60 kilometers apart.  These usually feature a fuel station (Tankstelle), restaurant or snack bar, convenience store, telephones, and restrooms.  Many also feature hotels, showers, playgrounds, conference rooms, and chapels.  There are over 700 service areas in operation and they're open 24 hours a day.  A brochure with maps and charts showing the network of service areas and the facilities available at each can be obtained at any service area and is also available on the web (see links below).

            service area

Autobahn service area

Signs announcing the approach of a service area give the name of the service area, the distance to it, and one or more pictograms indicating the services available there:

Sign 361 Sign 376 Sign 377 Sign 375
Fuel Restaurant Snack bar Hotel

            area approach sign
Service area approach sign
The white sign at the bottom indicates the distance to the next service area

Smaller parking areas, many equipped with restrooms (WC), are even more abundant along the Autobahn.  These are marked with signs like the one below.

            area approach sign

Approach sign for parking area w/ WC

The past couple of decades has seen the proliferation of service facilities (mainly fuel stations and fast-food restaurants) just off Autobahn exit ramps.  Especially increasing in popularity are truck stops (Autohof).  These generally offer facilities comparable to the service areas, but usually at considerably lower prices.  Most are now marked by special signs on the Autobahn like the one below.

Truck stop
            exit sign

Autohof announcement sign

Signs & markings

Signage on the Autobahn is excellent.  All direction signs on the Autobahn as well as those giving directions to the Autobahn are white on blue.  Signage before interchanges is standard both in form and placement.

Overhead signs are being used increasingly more frequently.  These signs generally take on the forms shown in the various pictures below.  Note that the route number shields are typically located at the bottom of the signs rather than at the top like in the US.  Drivers should also be aware that unlike the US, directions on the Autobahn (as well as other roads) are not given using the cardinal directions (North, South, East, West), but rather by destination cities.  Know what the major cities are along your route before you start out.  A helpful idiosyncrasy is the tendency to list major cities on signs on connecting Autobahns that lead toward another Autobahn route that will actually take you to that city.  The most important cities start appearing on signs hundreds of kilometers away.  One other peculiarity is that when several cities are listed, the farthest city is generally listed first or on top; in the US, it's usually the opposite.  The last place listed is usually the name of the next exit.  Finally, you may come across names that include a one or two letter abbreviation (e.g. "S-Degerloch" or "HH-Zentrum"); these correspond to the official license plate registration city abbreviations and indicate an exit for a district or other destination in that city.  So "S-Degerloch" would be the exit for "Stuttgart-Degerloch" while "HH-Zentrum" denotes "Hamburg-Zentrum", or downtown Hamburg.

Overhead signs

Advance guide signs for Autobahn crossing

Overhead signs

Typical overhead advance guide sign for exit

Overhead signs

Exit signs at Autobahn crossing

                        butterfly signs

Overhead "butterfly" exit signs

Autobahns bear a one, two, or three digit number with an "A" prefix (e.g. A ; however, the "A" is not shown on signs.  The one and two digit numbers indicate mainline routes; three digit routes are spurs.  Route numbers are assigned by region (e.g. the area around Munich is region 9, so most Autobahns in that area start with 9) and even-numbered routes generally run east-west while odd-numbered routes north-south.  Route numbers for spurs and connectors usually start with the parent number followed by an additional digit or two to make three digits total (e.g. the A831 branches off of the A8; the A241 branches off of the A24.)  Route markers are an oblong white and blue hexagon:

Sign 405

Here are the main signs you will encounter:

Sign 330 Autobahn entrance
  • Marks entrance ramps to the Autobahn and indicates the start of Autobahn traffic regulations
  • This symbol is also used on signs giving directions to the Autobahn
Sign 448
Initial interchange approach sign
  • Placed 1000 meters before exits; 2000 meters before Autobahn crossings
  • Shows the interchange number and name
  • The symbol indicates the type of interchange:
Autobahn exit
  Autobahn junction
Sign 449
Advance interchange directional sign
  • Placed 500 meters before exits; 1000 meters and 500 meters before Autobahn crossings
  • Shows a schematic of the interchange and gives additional destinations and route numbers
Signs 450 - 452
Interchange countdown markers
  • Placed 300 meters (3 stripes), 200 meters (2 stripes), and 100 meters (1 stripe) before the exit
  • Interchange number appears atop the 300 meter marker
Sign 332
Exit sign
  • Located at exit point
  • Occasionally placed in the median
  • When placed overhead, may be repeated several times above the exit lane
Sign 333
Exit sign
  • Marks the exit ramp
Sign 406
Interchange number
  • Shown on the initial interchange approach sign and on the first interchange countdown marker
  • Interchanges are numbered sequentially
Sign 460
Provisional detour
  • Marks a pre-posted detour route for use in the event that the Autobahn must be closed
  • Follow the same-numbered route to return to the next Autobahn entrance
  • Can also be used to bypass Autobahn congestion
  • Odd numbers go in one direction, even numbers in the opposite direction
Sign 466
Provisional detour schematic
  • Used to direct Autobahn traffic to the next sequential provisional detour route when traffic cannot return to the Autobahn at the next entrance
Sign 467
Alternate route
  • Indicates a recommended alternate route on the Autobahn system for specific vehicles or destinations in order to avoid congestion
  • Type of vehicle or destination will be shown in conjunction with this sign
Sign 453
Distance Sign
  • Placed after every entrance
  • Lists distances to major cities along the route
  • Distances to other nearby major cities accessible from an intersecting Autobahn are listed at the bottom with the respective route number
Sign 334
End of Autobahn Sign
  • Located on exit ramps from the Autobahn and indicates the end of Autobahn traffic regulations
  • Also used to warn when the Autobahn mainline ends ahead (terminus)
Diagram exit
                        sign Diagram exit
Examples of diagram signs for complex interchanges

    • Solid white line: Marks the left edge of the road or, on the right side, marks the inside of the shoulder or the right edge of the road.  Also used sometimes between traffic lanes to indicate that changing lanes is not allowed.
    • Long, thin broken white lines: Separate traffic lanes.
    • Short, thick broken white lines: Separate a deceleration (exit) lane or acceleration (entrance) lane from the main traffic lanes.
    • V-diagonal markings: Mark the restricted area at an exit gore.
    • Yellow markings: Used in construction zones and supersede all regular white markings.

Signs and Signals page

for complete information on German road signs and markings.

                road markings

Typical lane markings

Dynamic signs

During the past couple of decades, German traffic engineers have developed sophisticated traffic control systems to manage traffic along many Autobahns and urban expressways.  These automated systems consist of surveillance cameras, speed monitors, and special electronic variable message signs, as well as equipment to detect and automatically warn of fog, rain, and ice.  The primary intent of these systems is to gradually and systematically reduce the speed of traffic approaching or driving through areas with congestion, construction, or hazardous weather conditions.  Studies have shown that these systems have reduced accidents by as much as 30% within three years of being installed.  The first such system was tested in the early '80s on the A8/A81 near Stuttgart and has since been expanded to over 1,300 km of Autobahn, especially those subject to frequent congestion or dangerous weather conditions, as well as in and approaching tunnels.  These systems have also been installed on several non-Autobahn urban expressways, and the government is spending €40 million a year to continue their expansion.

Autobahn electronic signs 

Autobahn electronic signs showing 100 km/h speed limit and construction ahead

While you will find some electronic signs that just show plain text messages (similar to those in use in the US), most of the systems in use display facsimiles of official traffic signs.  These allow authorities to use the standard pictogram signs to warn of downstream conditions or to implement dynamic regulations.  A common use is the temporary implementation or reduction of speed limits to respond to traffic, road, or weather conditions.  Occasionally, these speed limits are set per lane.  It is important to obey the speed limits indicated by these signs and you will find that the limits shown are generally very appropriate for the prevailing traffic or weather conditions.  It should be noted that the speed limits and other regulations shown are indeed enforceable, and many areas are also equipped with photo radar that is integrated with the system (and thus is aware of the current speed limit).  The signs can also indicate lane closures using the standard international lane control symbols.  Below are examples of these electronic signs.

Electronic sign 101 Electronic Sign 124 Electronic sign 123 Electronic sign 114 Electronic sign 113
Congestion Road work Slippery road Watch for ice or snow

Electronic 80km/h sign Electronic sign 277 Electronic Sign 278 Electronic Sign 281 Electronic Sign 282
Speed limit
No passing for vehicles over 3.5t End of speed limit End of no passing for vehicles over 3.5t End of all restrictions

Green arrow down Yellow slant arrow leftYellow slant arrow right Red X
Lane open Lane closed ahead
Merge in the direction indicated
Lane closed
You may not drive in this lane

In addition to the symbols above, the following word messages are used, usually in conjunction with the "danger" sign:

    • UNFALL (accident)

    • NEBEL (fog)

    • STAU (congestion)

In addition to marking lanes closed by accidents or construction, lane control signals are used in some areas to close lanes to help reduce congestion at interchanges.  For instance, if there is significantly heavier traffic merging from Autobahn 1 onto Autobahn 2, the right lane on Autobahn 2 will be closed to provide an unobstructed lane for the heavier traffic to merge into.

                        electronic signs 

Electronic signs showing left lane closed ahead and 100km speed limit in open lanes

When different speed limits are shown on a single gantry, the limit shown applies to the lane under the sign.  In the example below, the speed limit in the left lane would be 120 km/h, 100 km/h in the center lane, and 80 km/h in the right lane.

Gray gantryElectronic 120km/h
                                    gantryElectronic sign 123Gray gantryElectronic 100km/h
                                    gantryElectronic sign 123Gray gantryElectronic 80km/h

Over 1,700 km of Autobahn are part of dynamic alternate route systems.  These systems employ changeable guide signs which, when activated, display recommended alternate route guidance to help drivers avoid congestion.  Some areas employ "substitutive routing" where the destinations shown on the standard blue guide signs are changed using mechanical panels to re-route traffic onto different routes.  In other areas, "additive routing" is utilized.  In this case, the regular blue guide signs are static, but additional white signs with changeable panels and the big orange "alternate route" arrow symbol are used.  The arrow points in the recommended direction to follow along with the destination city, route number, or vehicle types (e.g. trucks) that the suggested alternate route applies to.  For instance, in the picture below, traffic headed to Deggendorf and the Munich airport is being advised to exit in 1200 meters and follow the A99 and A92.  Once you are on one of these alternate routes, continue to follow alternate route arrow signs until you have reached your destination or have returned to the original route.  Note that many times much of the alternate route is marked by permanent static signs, but a dynamic sign is used at the initial "decision point". 

                        alternate route signage

Changeable sign showing recommended alternate route


In the event of an accident, breakdown, or other emergency along the Autobahn, you are never more than a kilometer away from help.  Emergency telephones (Notrufsäule) are located at 2 km intervals along the sides of the road.  The direction to the nearest phone is indicated by small arrows atop the roadside reflector posts.  In long tunnels, emergency phones are located in refuge rooms every 100-200 meters.

Autobahn emergency phone

Autobahn emergency phone

Roadside post with arrow
                                    pointing to nearest emergency phone

Roadside post with arrow pointing
direction to nearest emergency phone

The emergency phone system was privatized a decade ago.  All calls go to a central call center in Hamburg.  In the event of an accident, dispatchers there will immediately connect the caller to the nearest police or emergency services office.  For breakdowns, the dispatcher will obtain the information necessary to send the appropriate service.  This may include the "Yellow Angels" of the ADAC or AvD auto club, a tow truck, or an insurance, dealership, or rental car repair service.  Roadside assistance is free, but you'll likely have to pay for parts.  If you need to be towed, there is no charge to remove the vehicle from the Autobahn, but you will have to pay for towing beyond that.  If you're driving a rental car, all services should be covered by the rental agency.  Depending on the time of day, volume of calls, and traffic conditions, response time for a breakdown may vary from a few minutes to possibly over an hour.

There are now two varieties of emergency phones in use.  On the older phones, you will find a cover with a handle.  Lift the cover all the way and wait for a dispatcher to answer.  The newer phones don't have a cover; instead, they have an external speaker/microphone area with two buttons that you can press to connect you to the appropriate dispatcher.  There is a yellow button with a wrench symbol for reporting a breakdown and a red button with a red cross to report an accident.  Press the appropriate button and wait for a reply.  In most cases, the location of the phone is transmitted automatically when your call is connected.  If not, you will need to give the dispatcher the kilometer location of the phone as indicated on a label on the inside of the cover or near the speaker and your direction of travel.  For an accident, report the number of vehicles involved and any injuries.  For a breakdown, be prepared to report the vehicle's license number, make and model, color, and your auto club, insurance company, or rental agency.  An English-speaking dispatcher is usually available.

                        demonstrating use of an old-style emergency phone

Man demonstrating how to use an
old-style emergency phone

After calling, return to your vehicle or the accident scene and wait for help.  For breakdowns, someone will arrive shortly to assist you.  In the event of an accident, a cavalry of emergency aid will descend on you.  Police, fire service, ambulances, and emergency doctors all respond to Autobahn crashes.  A medical evacuation helicopter is also always on standby.

Alternatively, you can contact the emergency call center via mobile phone at 0800 6683 663.

Old-style emergency

Old-style emergency phone

New-style emergency

New-style emergency phone



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