GENERAL RULES FOR DRIVING IN GERMANY
Most of Europe, including Germany, has a .05 (0.5 pro mille) blood alcohol limit for drunk driving. In former East Germany the legal limit for driving under the influence was zero until 1992. German law deals harshly with driving under the influence. Violators may lose their license on the first offense and must pay high fines.Children
In Austria, Germany, and Switzerland, children under the age of 13 are not allowed to sit in the front seat of any vehicle that has a back seat.Seat Belts
Seat belts are mandatory for the driver and all passengers in the car, front and back.Cell Phones
Don't talk on the cell phone while driving, it is illegal in Germany.Traffic Lights
When pulling up to a traffic light you will notice that, unlike the U.S. traffic lights, which go from green to yellow to red and then directly back to green, German traffic lights will go from red to yellow and then green. More importantly is the 'right on red' rule we have in the U.S. This rule does not exist in Germany. If you try to make a right turn when the traffic light is red you may find yourself in a major lawsuit.Breakdowns
Germany has a couple of major automobile/motorists clubs. The biggest is the ADAC (Allgemeiner Deutscher Automobil Club, General German Auto Club). The other is the AvD (Automobilclub von Deutschland, Auto Club of Germany). Both offer the usual array of motorist services. Of most interest to the tourist is the roadside breakdown service (Straßenwacht, Pannenhilfe) operated by both clubs (but especially ADAC), which offers assistance to both members and non-members. Basic help from these 'yellow angels' is free, but you will have to pay for parts or towing. To summon help, use the nearest emergency telephone, located at 2km intervals along the autobahn and 5-10km intervals along Federal Highways. Arrows on the roadside posts will direct you to the nearest one. Where emergency telephones are not provided, call 0180/2222222 from a phone booth or mobile phone.Environmental Zones
Since 2008, many cities in Germany have introduced environmental 'green zones' (Umweltzonen) that require cars to have a special sticker (Umweltplakette) for entry. Motorists driving into these zones without the proper sticker are subject to a 40-euro fine. The law applies to foreigners as well as residents. If you have a rental car, you need to be sure it has a green sticker.
Cars marked 'Fahrschule' (driving school) mean a student driver may be at the wheel. However, you don't have too much to worry about; in typical thorough German fashion, Fahrschule cars are equipped with dual controls so that the instructor can take over any time the student gets into serious trouble. The practical, on-the-road training time has to include night driving, autobahn experience, in-town driving, and a multitude of other driving situations. The test for a German driver's license includes questions about the mechanical aspects of an automobile, in addition to the usual examination on the rules of the road.
It is rare to see a dented, smoking junk car in Germany. This is not just due to typical German neatness or pride of ownership. It also has to do with a German institution that is as feared and respected as is perhaps the Internal Revenue Service in the U.S. The Technische Überwachungsverein or TÜV is an agency that must approve the roadworthiness of German cars and trucks. Without a TÜV (pronounced TOOF) sticker, a vehicle can't be licensed or driven. Cars have been known to fail TÜV inspection for having a single rust spot or dent in a critical location. A broken light or a malfunctioning exhaust system would be obvious reasons for rejection. A popular bumper sticker seen on older German vehicles likely to run afoul of TÜV reads, 'Bis dass der TÜV uns scheidet.' ('Till TÜV us do part.').Winter Tires
In November 2010, the Bundestag, Germany's parliament, passed a new federal law that is very specific about winter tires. It also doubles the fines for drivers caught without snow tires or who have an accident in winter conditions without snow tires on their vehicle.
Most German motorists have long known the old rule of thumb for putting snow tires on the car: 'von O bis O'. The term 'from O to O' is short for 'from October to Easter' (von Oktober bis Ostern). It is a recommendation that one should make the change from regular tires to snow tires in October, and leave them on until Easter.
The new German law does not set any time limits, but it does clearly state that under icy conditions (bei Glatteis, Schneeglätte, Schneematsch, Eis- und Reifglätte) you must not drive without snow tires on your vehicle. So, since it's difficult to predict the weather, for all practical purposes, the old 'von O bis O' rule still applies. (In Austria, winter tires are mandatory from November 1 to April 15.)
The new law also spells out what a 'winter tire' is. Specifically, it is an M+S-Reifen, a mud-and-snow tire that has an official M+S (Matsch und Schnee) marking on it. (M+S tires do not have to be 'winter' tires. All-year or all-weather M+S tires also qualify.) The German automobile club ADAC recommends going a step further and getting tires with the 'three-peak-mountain' seal, an indication of snow tires that meet the highest standards.
ADAC also makes another recommendation that goes beyond the minimum requirements of the law. While the Straßenverkehrsordnung (StVO) requires a minimum snow tire tread depth (Profiltiefe) of 1.6 mm, ADAC ups that to 4.0 mm.
The snow tire law applies to all drivers, even if they do not own the vehicle! That means if you are renting a car in Germany in the winter; make sure it has M+S tires. The law also applies to motorbikes, trucks and buses.
If the police catch you driving in winter conditions without M+S tires, you'll have to pay a fine (Bußgeld) of 40 euros - plus a point against you in Flensburg.* If you are involved in an accident or you block traffic in icy conditions without M+S tires, the fine goes up to 80 euros and a point against you in Flensburg.*Flensburg
The Verkehrszentralregister des Kraftfahrt-Bundesamtes in Flensburg is a central register of all traffic violations in Germany. Various driving offenses are assigned a number of points and recorded in a databank in the northern German town of Flensburg. A driver with up to three points need not worry, but after accumulating four or more points, various sanctions take effect, ranging from remedial driving school to loss of your license to drive.