The autobahn is a driving enthusiast’s mecca, a place where speed limits are replaced by the government’s trust in the commons sense of their citizens and visitors. Whether their confidence is justified is a subject that’s been done to death, and everyone will have their opinion. What we’re interested in for the purposes of this article, however, is what it’s really like to drive on one of these famous roads.
Here are a few things which you might find interesting about driving on Germany’s choose-your-speed highways!
1 . There are some rules and limits
As much as we like to think of the autobahn as a free-for all, it is not totally unrestricted. There is no federally mandated speed limit for some classes of vehicles, however there will be limits posted in areas with high rates of accidents, those which are under construction or substandard, or urban areas. Bad weather also means that speed limits will be enforced. This means you will have to keep a lookout for temporary or permanent limits in various sections.
Notably, buses carrying passengers and motorcycles pulling trailers are limited to 60 kph, vehicles exceeding 3.5 tonnes in weight, buses without passengers and other vehicles with trailers are limited to 80kph and certain buses and trailer-towing vehicles which are certified for 100kph can do that speed. Limits are also posted at off-ramps and interchanges. Tailgating is punishable by a fine, and in a traffic jam drivers must keep a lane free for emergency services. Stopping is illegal, except when unavoidable.
There are also rules around overtaking/passing, which aim to make speed safer by ensuring good traffic flow. Vehicles should use the right lanes when they are free, and must overtake/pass only on the left.
2 . They are designed specifically for high-speed driving
Germany didn’t just knock down the speed limit signs and call it a day. In fact, some call the autobahns an engineering marvel. They have at least 2 lanes in each direction, often more, each 3.75 metres wide, a wide landscaped edge, double-sided guardrails, long acceleration and deceleration lanes, full grade separation, grades of 4% or less, well-banked curves, freeze-resistant concrete and an array of other design features which make them safer to travel on.
Jodie and Alex, resident Germans on the Airport Rentals team, report that driving on the autobahn is smooth and enjoyable - especially for those drivers with high-powered cars.
Jodie who hails from Stuttgart, says “It’s especially good where I’m from because Stuttgart is home to two of the most famous of the luxury car companies, Mercedes Benz and Porsche. The owners of those cars can get out and test their vehicles on the autobahn - really use them to their full potential!”
3 . There’s more to appeal than just speed
Autobahns are top-notch highways, the ultimate in transport technology. A road trip in Germany is made easy with the well-equipped and frequent service areas. Tank and Rast,
not the only provider but the biggest, operates 390 service areas around the country, including 50 with hotels and and 350 with gas stations.
Other common amenities available include modern toilets and bathrooms, restaurants, shops and even a few motorway chapels. Alex commented that these are open 24/7 and all year round, so making a long road trip is fast and convenient.
4 . Drivers tend to be well trained and sensible
Hooligans on the road are extremely dangerous, and when drivers are restricted to a certain speed, the temptation to push it can be strong. Unfortunately, when everyone else is sticking to the limits, driving too fast can have disastrous results - especially when it happens on a road that’s not built for it.
Not only does the ability to drive at higher speeds reduce the temptation to be an idiot, but Germany has taken a “fence at the top of the cliff” approach when it comes to driver licensing. Alex says “it took me several years to get my license, and I had to take lessons - it is not easy to get qualified to drive!”
Along with the strict rules about overtaking/passing, this high standard of driving skills help to keep the autobahns safe even at high speeds. Travelling amongst drivers who know what they are doing is a great experience!
Are there also cultural tendencies which make high-speed driving a possibility in Germany when it might not work elsewhere? That could raise endless debates - but it seems likely. If you are planning to drive on the autobahn, remember it is your responsibility to ensure your own safety and the safety of others, and obey the laws to the letter.
5 . You have to keep up
There is no official minimum speed limit for the autobahn, but that doesn't mean it’s ok to putter along at 50 kph. Anything lower than 80 kph could be considered dangerous as the speed discrepancies will be getting too big, so it’s an unspoken rule that you shouldn’t get on the autobahn - even in the far right lane - if you aren’t going to keep up.
Jodie said that in her experience around Stuttgart, 200 kph could be considered an average speed on the more open roads. Alex commented that the “unspoken” lower limit was around 130 kph on these sections, and any drivers venturing onto the highway should be prepared to drive at that speed.
6 . It’s fun
This one’s just an added extra because for most of you, it won’t come as a surprise! Driving on the autobahn can be a fun experience, and if you stay safe then a car rental in Germany
could be an unforgettable holiday. It’s not just the roads that make it so, but the historic castles, charming towns and amazing cities - Deutschland has a lot to offer!
Pick up a Germany car rental
in one of more than 30 locations and you could be in for your own Autobahn adventure!