A priority issue for American citizens resident in Germany is the reciprocal recognition of driver’s licenses from the two countries. The process of establishing reciprocity continues to be slow, since many informal agreements require individual tailoring to meet the requirements of each U.S. state.
As of January 1, 1999, U.S. driver’s license holders must be in possession of a German license six months after entering the country, if they wish to continue driving.
U.S. citizens planning to stay less than a year, however, may legally drive in Germany for up to 364 days in Germany on their U.S. driver’s licenses. However, they must go to their local driver’s registration office (Führerscheinstelle) prior to expiration of the six-month period after arrival and notify that office that they want to continue to drive on their U.S. license until their departure (up to 364 days, as stated above). Note that an official translation of the U.S. driver’s license must be brought to the Führerscheinstelle, as well as proof that you are leaving Germany before a year has passed. Proof could be in the form of a return ticket to the U.S., a work contract with an expiration date before a year, etc.
A U.S. license holder requiring a German license must contact a local German driving school which will provide information on the necessary paperwork and register the applicant for testing. Applicants do not need to take theoretical or behind-the-wheel lessons. However, driving schools recommend that applicants take one or two driving lessons in order to become acquainted with the skills to be tested. Total costs (without driving lessons) may average as much as EUR 425 for license holders from states with no reciprocal agreement with Germany.
The U. S. Embassy, supported by the American Chamber of Commerce in Germany, continues to actively press all U.S. states to reach an agreement on the reciprocal recognition of driver’s licenses with Germany, essentially a waiver of testing requirements.
The German Ministry of Transport in conjunction with the German Länder has approved exemptions to the practical (road) and theoretical (written) tests for license holders from:
- New Mexico
- South Carolina
- South Dakota
- West Virginia
- Washington State
- Puerto Rico
License holders from these states can submit an application for a German driver’s license directly to their local Stadtverwaltung (Führerscheinstelle). An applicant will usually be asked to present the following documents:
- an official identification document such as a passport
- a residency registration certificate from the Einwohnermeldeamt
- the original U.S. license together with a German translation
- a statement by the applicant that the license is still valid
- a recent photograph (35mm x 45 mm)
- Documentation of a recent eye test is also often required.
Partial reciprocity agreements (exemption from the road test) have been approved for
- North Carolina
- District of Columbia
License holders from these states should also approach their local Stadtverwaltung (Führerscheinstelle) to submit an application for a German license and to be registered for the written test. The test can be taken in English, costs approximately EUR 40, and includes a separate test of German license-related vocabulary.
Every effort has been made to make this information sheet factual and useful. It will be republished periodically as facts and conditions change. However, final authority on driving in Germany rests with the German Ministry of Transport
Registration of your Car
The title (Fahrzeugschein) must always accompany the driver in the car; however you should not leave the registration in your unattended automobile.
All cars receiving German plates must be registered and pass the Technical Inspection (TÜV) within 90 days of the car’s arrival in Germany.
“D” decal Deutschland. You must display the “D” decal on the rear of your car when traveling outside Germany.
German law requires that all automobiles be equipped with:
- a triangle caution sign
- a first aid kit (DIN number 13164). First aid kits are available at the ADAC or German service stations.
Car Inspection (TÜV)
German law requires that all automobiles be inspected once every two years by the Technical Inspection Association (TÜV). Fees apply.
- Bi-annual inspection
- Reinspection after failed inspection
- Penalties for overdue inspection
Vehicle inspection is certified by an inspection decal affixed to the rear license plate. The number in the small inner circle indicates the year that the car is next due for inspection (e.g. 04) The outer circle shows the number of the month that vehicle is due for inspection (e.g. 10). This example would then indicate that the vehicle is due for TÜV in October (10) , 2004 (04).
If your automobile is due for an inspection, you should have the dealer, a local service station or an auto repair shop check your car and repair any defects prior to the TÜV inspection.
German law requires that all registered automobiles carry third-party liability insurance.
Note: Every accident must be reported, without exception, immediately to the insurance company.
There are approximately 130 providers of automobile insurance operating in Germany. The willingness among these firms to reduce premiums for safe driving records compiled in the U.S. varies considerably. Firms in Germany are not obliged to reduce premiums for safe driving histories compiled outside Germany, though many in fact will do so. In applying for car insurance, the U.S. Embassy encourages consumers to comparison-shop among a variety of insurers.
Driving in Germany
Driving in Germany can be both an exhilarating and frustrating experience. In a country renowned for its high performance cars and high speed Autobahns, Germany hosts more traffic volume than any nation in Europe and, as a result, suffers the Continent’s highest injury-accident rate. Many German traffic regulations differ a great deal from those observed in the United States. It is essential for safety sake to know this rules and to be familiar with the international road signs. Some of the most important regulations and driving tips are discussed below. You can also see more extensive information about German traffic regulations and traffic signs. Overview of fines for traffic offenses by German automobile Club (ADAC).
Speed limits are 50 km per hour in cities and towns and 100 km on the highway unless otherwise marked; there is no speed limit on the Autobahn, except where marked (but a top speed of 130 km is recommended by the German authorities).
To convert kilometers to miles; drop the 0 and multiply by 6 , e.g. 40 km equals 4×6 or roughly 24 miles.
Before pulling into the left lane to pass, check the rear view mirror very carefully as far back as you can see. Cars traveling at 160-180 km per hour approach suddenly, so when passing, do so quickly and then quickly return to the right lane. Some impatient drivers flash their headlights, use their blinker, and tailgate to pressure slower cars ahead into moving out of the way. These practices have been outlawed recently, and it is best to ignore this behavior if it is directed at you. (Within the city a driver may flash his lights at you as a signal that you may turn into the street or turn left across his lane of traffic, but do so with caution.)
In case of a breakdown, look for arrows at the top of the white posts lining the road. They’ll lead you to the nearest emergency call box, located every 1 1/2 to 3 km along the Autobahns. Merely lift the handle and an operator will answer. Most of the operators speak English or will connect you with someone who can. A booklet published by the German Autobahn Authority which includes maps of Germany, rest areas and locations of autobahn service stations is available from them.
Use of Seat Belts and Airbags
The use of seat belts is mandatory both in the front and back seats. If your seat belts are not fastened and you are stopped, you can be fined EUR 30, in case of an accident, you run the danger of invalidating your insurance. Children under the age of 12 are not permitted to ride in the front seat of the car and using a children’s safety seat is mandatory for each child in the car. This could also cost you a fine of EUR 30.
Drinking and Driving
German law concerning what constitutes driving a vehicle while under the influence of alcohol is different than American law. It must be understood, however, that there are many variables which alter the effects of alcohol upon a person, i.e., weight of the person, type of alcoholic beverage consumed, etc. It is therefore difficult to list all conditions and aspects of what constitutes drunken driving.
The important thing is NOT TO DRINK AND DRIVE.
Under German law it is illegal to operate a vehicle if the blood level is 0.5 per mill or higher. The law imposes a penalty and the withdrawal of the drivers license for specified periods of time depending upon the gravity of each violation.
Right of Way
Vehicles coming from the right have the right of way unless signs are posted otherwise. Pedestrians have the right of way as soon as they step into the crosswalk. Beware of cyclists on the bike paths, particularly when you are making a right turn.
Parking is generally permitted along the streets, unless there is a sign to the contrary. Signs will show whether parking or standing is allowed or not, and whether you must park with two or four wheels on the sidewalk, or use a parkscheibe. A Parkscheibe is a double cardboard disc, available at gas stations, which you must use in marked areas of limited but un-metered parking. The disc is set to indicate at what time you parked in a space and is displayed under your windshield. Failing to do so when required means a EUR 5.00 fine.
A particular hazard of driving in Europe in the winter time is the danger of “black ice” or Glatteis. The best way to recognize black ice is by surface reflection, but that dull patch just ahead might be ice also. Be especially wary in the early morning or late evening and near or on bridges. If you see the patch, take your foot off the gas quickly. Once on an icy section, do not accelerate, brake, gear down or make any sudden change in direction. Keep well behind other cars. If starting to lose control, steer toward the edge of the road where residues of sand and salt might help.
Snow chains can be rented from gas stations midway through your journey and then dropped off at another station further down the road. Sometimes membership in the German automobile club ADAC is necessary for this service, but not always. The cost is low and is based on km’s traveled. Stop as soon as you think you may need the chains, because supplies are limited at each station.
When you have or witness an accident:
- Stop immediately.
- Take steps to provide for traffic safety.
- Warn other traffic by setting up your warning triangle
- switch on emergency flash lights
- in case of minor damage, move your vehicle to the side of the road without delay.
- Assist the injured. Call or have someone call the police.
- Cooperate with the police, show them and those involved in the accident your identification card (Ausweis), automobile registration (Fahrzeugschein), drivers license (Führerschein) and insurance card.
DO NOT LEAVE THE SCENE FOR ANY OTHER REASON.
Do NOT admit any guilt. You may forfeit your insurance coverage. Do NOT sign anything unless you know exactly what you are signing. Do NOT leave the scene until you are sure you have all the facts on record needed to report the accident to your insurance company and file a claim.
When you see a police officer waving at you with a red light, or if a police car pulls you over:
- Stop immediately at the right side of the road.
- Cooperate with the police
- show your identification card
- car registration
- driver’s license
- insurance card.
- Answer only those questions that you understand.
Do not leave until released by the officer.
Germans are very sensitive to any damage to their cars, so be sure to avoid bumping them, particularly with the bumper of an American car. American car bumpers are built to withstand small bumps, but the same cannot be said of many German-made car bumpers. Take particular care moving out of your parking space, lest you inadvertently do damage, however slight, to the German car ahead or behind you.
Remember that causing any damage whatsoever to another vehicle is considered an accident and you should not leave the scene until the owner or a policeman has come. Leaving a note on the windshield of the damaged car with your name and phone number is not an accepted practice here. If you should leave the scene, you might be charged with a “hit and run”.
Loss of Vehicle Documents
Although initial German documents are issued free of charge, replacement documents are subject to the following fees:
- Title (Fahrzeugbrief) – EUR 23.60
- Registration (Fahrzeugschein) – EUR 10.70
- International Vehicle Reg. – EUR 10.20 (only issued with export plates)
- German Drivers License – EUR 35.00
- International Drivers License – EUR 13.00