How the Autobahn Works

Autobahn's Rules of the Road

A speed limit traffic sign stands on the motorway A38 south of Leipzig, Germany.
AP Photo/Eckehard Schulz

Similar to the United States, Germany's autobahn is regulated and laws are enforced by a specialty branch of the federal police, the Autobahnpolizei. The German autobahn police rely heavily on advanced technology, including video surveillance, to crack down on nuisance violations like tailgating as well as other, more serious offenses.

Some of the more interesting laws are listed below:


  • Tires must be rated for a vehicle's top speed. There are allowances in the case of winter tires but the driver must display a window sticker advising police they are cleared to use those specific tires.
  • Not following the two-second rule -- leaving at least two seconds of reaction time between you and the car in front -- can result in the suspension of a driver's license for up to three months.
  • Refusing to leave the left lane to allow a faster vehicle to pass (if traffic allows) is a finable offense and can be considered coercion. While German traffic laws allow a driver to honk or flash their lights as a warning to a slower driver of his or her intention to overtake and pass, excessive honking or flashing can also be considered coercion.
  • The right lane must be used for travel, and the left lane for passing. If a car passes on the right it can be stopped and fined, even if the driver's excuse was a slower car occupying the left lane. If this was the case, both drivers can be fined.
  • Emergency lanes are for emergencies only. Even running out of gas isn't an excuse as this is an avoidable circumstance.

On Feb. 1, 2009, the transport ministry revised its fine schedule with the dual goal of raising more revenue for road construction and maintenance, as well as reducing accidents and fatalities on the roads. The following are some of the more notable increases:

  • Inappropriate speed 100 euros
  • Failure to keep to the right 80 euros
  • Motorway offenses (such as making a U-turn, reversing, failure to give way or similar offenses) 70 to 200 euros
  • Failure to keep a safe distance to the vehicle in front 75 to 400 euros (depending on the speed and distance in any given case)
  • Speeding offense (within built-up areas) 80 to 760 euros (depending on the extent to which the speed limit was exceeded)
  • Speeding offense (outside built-up areas) 70 to 600 euros (depending on the extent to which the speed limit was exceeded)
  • Failure to show consideration for vulnerable road users 80 euros
  • Dangerous overtaking 80 to 250 euros
  • Failure to give way 100 euros
  • Illegal motor racing 500 euros (organizer) 400 euros (participant)

[source: BMVBS]