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‘Not always polite but they follow the rules’: The verdict on German drivers

Germany is a nation of car-lovers. But is it really true that Germans are particularly good drivers?

'Not always polite but they follow the rules': The verdict on German drivers
Drivers in Ludwigsburg, Baden-Württemberg. Photo: DPA

Germans are known for their love of cars and driving, with several of the world’s largest and most well-known car manufacturers such as Volkswagen, Mercedes and BMW based in the Bundesrepublik.

There is also a lower accident rate in Germany compared to other EU countries, despite – or some would argue because of – not having a speed limit on the country’s famous Autobahn. But are Germans as good drivers as their reputation suggests?

We put the question to our readers and found the majority agreed that Germany is a country full of people who are competent behind the wheel – but that doesn't mean there are no problems.

Here's what you had to say. Thanks to all who responded and helped with our article.

How would you rate drivers in Germany?

A clear majority – 58.3 percent – described Germans as “good” drivers, signalling that the stereotype may hold true at least in part. 

Meanwhile, 19.4 percent rated motorists as “same as every country  – some good, some bad, some terrible”. And 13.9 percent said drivers were “average”.

Just under 40 people replied to our survey over a three day period. 

READ ALSO: What you need to know about getting a German driving license

Judging by some of the responses, readers are very impressed by the behaviour on the roads in Germany. 

“Exceptional well-mannered and ‘rules following’ driving style,” said Karthik Ganesh, 25, in Passau, Bavaria.

Farhad Qazi, 42, based in Teltow, Brandenburg, said: “I've driven cars almost all over the world and when it comes to good traffic, roads and polite drivers, there is no other place like Germany. The best driving experience in the world.”

Do you feel safe on the roads?

A massive 83.3 percent of people said they felt safe on Germany's roads, while just 5.6 percent said they felt unsafe.

For some readers, a lack of cats eyes on dark country roads and drivers behaving recklessly made them feel uneasy about taking to the wheel in Germany.

Photo: DPA

So what makes Germans good at driving compared to other countries?

Overall drivers were praised. Germans tend to strictly follow the rules of the road – and this is what makes them stand out compared to other countries, lots of respondents said.

Raj Singh-Khakh, 53, in Cologne said: “They respect the rules and pedestrians. They have little or no road rage.”

Motorists “rarely deviate” and tend to “stick to the rules when driving,” added Shyamkumar Krishnan, 32, in Munich.

Peter D, 47, in Karlsruhe praised the “good lane keeping discipline” and said drivers in Germany were “more tolerant of other's errors and able to drive in all weather conditions”.

It's not easy to get a driving licence

Lots of people said Germany's extensive process for obtaining a driving licence could help to explain why many citizens are praised for their behaviour on the roads, some argued. 

Budding drivers have to hit the classroom and take part in numerous 90-minute-long theory lessons before they can even sit their theory test. They also have to complete a first aid course and sight exam before being allowed to get behind the wheel.

Basically, it's no walk in the park to be given the right to drive – and that pays off.

READ ALSO: 'A year-long ordeal': What I learned from getting my driving licence in Berlin

Sanjay, 30, in Bonn, said: “Everyone has to go through a rigorous system to obtain a driving licence so mostly the drivers who own a driving licence from Germany are far better compared to the drivers in US.”

You can’t mention driving in Germany without talking about the Autobahn, which famously has sections with no speed limit.

Some readers argued that the high quality of driving on Germany’s roads is the reason the controversial Autobahn no-speed limit system works.

Toscan Bennett, 56, in Königstein, Saxony, said: “Germans are among the best and most disciplined drivers worldwide. They are not always polite, but they generally follow the rules (which is why an unrestricted Autobahn works).”

READ ALSO: How our readers feel about imposing a speed limit on Germany's Autobahn

What's the most annoying thing drivers in Germany do?

Despite the glowing report, drivers in Germany are not perfect; far from it. 

“I see far too many people using their phones when they are behind the wheel, which is completely irresponsible and automatically rules a person out as being a competent driver,” said Alexandria Sampson, 23, Munich.

Some people praised the overall standard of driving but called out certain habits. 

“I like the order on the road, especially compared to drivers in Texas, where I'm from, but almost every driver I've been with likes to tail the people in front of them and then brake suddenly,” said Alexandra Zimmermann, 29, in Berlin. “I don't know why they all do it, but it's terrifying!”

Photo: DPA

“The majority of German drivers are rather good, but it is changing rapidly,” said Isak Koch, 57, in Schefflenz, Baden-Württemberg.

“Aggression is increasing visibly. Sticking to the speed limit has become a dangerous thing to do. Within seconds, someone will tailgate you, even flash lights and overtake [you] dangerously.

“My wife, having recently gotten her licence, is traumatized by this constantly. Impatience has become a big issue. I constantly see people overtaking long lines of cars behind some slow vehicle.”

Adam, 26, in Kaiserslautern, Rhineland-Palatinate, said: “Before I came to Germany I had to study German driving regulations for my job. I was told Germans always follow rules and are not aggressive drivers. They were wrong.”

Others said motorists don't use their indicators enough and don't communicate with other drivers on the road.

Phil Cooper, 53, said there was a “lack of understanding of traffic islands”.

What's your tips for driving in Germany?

Lots of people said new drivers in Germany should be aware of cyclists and stay out of the fast lane on the Autobahn.

“Don't drive on the third lane on the Autobahn, always check both directions for cyclists before turning,” said Silviu, 37.

Koch in Schlefflenz said: “Get to know the traffic signs and rules. There are some very strange ones in Germany.”

James Banks, 46, in Munich, said: “Be prepared for people right behind you giving you precious little time to manoeuvre.”

Meanwhile, Sanjay in Bonn had this advice: “Do not get carried away by the euphoria. Stay calm and plan your journey ahead and be a responsible driver. Your small mistake on roads might cause big trouble for other road users, so be careful.”

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For members


EXPLAINED: What to know about driving in low emissions zones in Germany

There are a total of 56 low emissions zones in Germany and they’re not all in big cities. There are rules for which type of car can enter them and not following them could get you smacked with a sizable fine.

EXPLAINED: What to know about driving in low emissions zones in Germany

What are low-emissions zones?

Low-emission zones – or Umweltzone in German – are areas in which only vehicles that comply with certain exhaust emission standards are allowed to drive. They aren’t just in Germany, but can be found all over Europe.

READ ALSO: Low emission zones: What you need to know if you’re driving in Europe

Since 2008, German cities have had the power to designate low-emission zones, and decide which zones vehicles with stickers are allowed to enter.

Where are the low emissions zones in Germany?

There are currently 56 low emissions zones in Germany that require motorists to have an emissions-class sticker displayed on their windshield to enter.

You can find the whole list of Umweltzone here, which includes city centres such as Berlin, Munich, Frankfurt am Main, Cologne and Düsseldorf.

If you’re planning a road trip in Germany, it’s best to check ahead online to find out if you’ll be driving into one of these areas as, though there will be signs dotted around, they’re easy to miss and not seeing them won’t be an excuse if you encounter the police!

Driving into a low-emissions zone without a sticker – even if you have a low-emissions vehicle – comes with a fine of €80 if you’re caught.

Which sticker do I need?

This sticker you need is called eine Umweltplakette (an environment sticker) or eine Feinstaubplakette (emissions sticker).

For 55 of the 56 emissions zones in Germany, you need a green sticker. This can be given to gasoline vehicles with a regulated catalytic converter and diesel vehicles (Euro 6, Euro 5, Euro 4, Euro 3 with a particulate filter) as long as their exhaust emission values correspond to pollutant group 4.

A hand reaches for a green environmental badge on a car in Hanover.

A hand reaches for a green environmental badge on a car in Hanover. Photo: picture alliance / dpa | Peter Steffen

But don’t worry if you don’t know which value your vehicle has – you can find it in the vehicle’s registration documents.

The only low-emissions zone in Germany which still allows vehicles with a yellow sticker to enter is in Neu-Ulm, and the yellow sticker is only issued to diesel vehicles of the Euro 3 or 2 standard with a particulate filter.

Where can I get the green sticker for my car?

Emissions stickers are generally quite easy to come by in Germany and can be purchased locally at most mechanics, vehicle inspection and registration offices or from numerous providers on the Internet which can then be sent out by post. The cost of a sticker ranges from €5 to around €18.

You can buy stickers online from TÜV SÜD here or from TÜV-NORD here

Can I convert my yellow sticker to a green one? 

If you have a yellow sticker, you may be able to fit your car with a particulate filter to be able to qualify for a green sticker. 

What about if I’m driving a foreign vehicle in Germany?

Driving bans in low-emission zones also apply to vehicles registered outside of Germany and foreign vehicles need to have the green sticker when driving into them to avoid getting a fine.

Owners of foreign vehicles can get their stickers in the same way as German car owners, by purchasing one online or going to a mechanic or vehicle inspection office.

READ ALSO: Driving in Germany: Eight German road signs that confuse foreigners

There, they will be able to give you your sticker after checking your vehicle registration documents – even if they’re in another language – as the emissions numbers are what counts. 

Are the stickers valid everywhere?

Stickers are valid in every environmental zone in Germany and not only in one area. With a green sticker on the vehicle, you can drive into all cities in Germany. 

However, there are some other exceptions to be wary of.

A few cities in Germany have also introduced diesel driving bans due to excessive exhaust pollution. This means that diesel cars – even with the green sticker – won’t aren’t allowed to drive into certain areas. Some areas of Munich, Hamburg, Mainz, Frankfurt and Stuttgart currently have such a ban in effect and you can find out exactly where here

READ ALSO: Munich introduces diesel driving ban in city centre

What about motorbikes?

Good news for two-wheelers: only four-wheeled vehicles need to display an emissions sticker in Germany.