For members


What you need to know about changes to German driving laws in 2020

From tougher penalties for reckless drivers and 'gawpers' to safer measures for cyclists, here are some important changes happening this year on Germany's roads.

What you need to know about changes to German driving laws in 2020
Photo: DPA

Tougher fines

Drivers who commit parking offences face being punished more severely. In November, the government passed a new catalogue of fines, which came into force at the start of January. 

Those who do not let ambulance and rescue teams through when accidents happen on roads, including the Autobahn, face paying up to €320 instead of the previous €200.

Drivers also face the risk of a one-month driving ban and two points on their licence. 

Meanwhile, motorists who double park or park on footpaths or cycle paths could be sanctioned with €100 (they were previously hit with a maximum fine of €55).

Three-minute stops by drivers on protective strips at the side of some roads – the part usually used by cyclists which is separated from traffic by a dashed line – are no longer allowed. 

And vehicles with a gross weight of over 3.5 tonnes are only allowed to turn right in urban areas at walking speed (7 to 11 km/h). Those caught flouting the rules can be hit with a €70 fine and a point on their licence. 

READ ALSO: 'Not always polite but they follow the rules': The verdict on German drivers

Harsher punishments for 'gawpers'

Using a mobile phone to film or photograph people who have died in road accidents will in future be punishable by fines or even imprisonment of up to two years.

The “production and distribution of a picture that shows a deceased person in a grossly offensive manner” will in future be considered a criminal offence, the government decided in November last year.

These so-called 'gawpers' can obstruct the work of rescue services as well as cause distress.

Until now, criminal law has only protected living people from degrading images. In the case of dead people, such pictures are only considered a violation of personal rights. 

However, these kinds of pictures are appearing more frequently due to the amount of mobile phones around and they are easily spread online.

It is also a punishable offence to obstruct any helpers at the scene of an accident.

The Bundestag still has to approve the changes. But if all goes to plan it would come into force in the course of 2020.

The move comes after a German police officer's response to drivers trying to engage in this behaviour went viral.

Carpooling in bus lanes plus parking spaces for carsharing and e-cars

This year cities and municipalities across Germany will be able to open up bus lanes for car pooling. The prerequisite is that cars (or motorcycles with side cars) must be occupied by at least three people.

The aim is to have less vehicles on Germany's roads in a bid to bring down harmful emissions. New road signs marking parking spaces reserved for car-sharing and electric cars are also planned.

Driving licence requirements changing

In order to promote automatic cars and the use of electric cars in driving schools, Federal Transport Minister Andreas Scheuer is planning to change driving licence test requirements.

In future drivers whose licence is only for automatic cars can complete additional training with a vehicle that has a manual gear stick.

They will no longer need to complete a second official test to drive a manual car. The EU Commission approved the planned changes at the beginning of December 2019.

Insurance changes

Around eleven million motorists will be affected by a change in the 'type class' of their motor insurance this year. A total of 4.6 million drivers will benefit from paying less, while 6.5 million car owners will have higher premiums. 

Higher e-car purchase premium

This year the purchase bonus for electric cars up to a net cost of €40,000 is to rise from €4,000 to €6,000. For vehicles with a purchase price of up to €65,000, the subsidy will be increased to €5000.

For plug-in hybrids, the subsidy is to rise to €4,500 (new price up to €40,000) and €3750 euros (new price up to €65,000). The adjusted subsidy guideline is to “come into force as soon as possible” following a state aid review by the EU Commission.

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

More diesel bans on the way?

Diesel bans came into force in German cities last year – and there could be more on the way in 2020. German Environmental Aid (Deutsche Umwelthilfe) is planning to continue to take authorities to court over air pollution.

Boost for motorbike enthusiasts

It is now possible to drive so-called light motorcycles with a car driving licence – but only after extensive training. According to the new regulations, which were passed shortly before Christmas, it is no longer necessary to take a separate driving test for engines with a capacity of up to 125 cubic centimetres and 15 hp. 

However, drivers must be at least 25-years-old and have held a Class B driving licence for five years. After nine 90-minute lessons (four theoretical and five practical), they will then be entitled to drive class A1 light motorcycles in Germany. When the plans for the new regulation became known last summer, experts had expressed concern.

Minimum age for scooter driving licence (moped) reduced

At the end of October 2019, the Bundestag decided to permanently lower the minimum age for moped riding. In future, young people will be allowed to obtain their scooter driving licence at the age of 15. However, each federal state may decide for itself whether it will actually implement the new regulation.

More safety and special 'green arrow' for cyclists

This year there's set to be new traffic signs introduced to stop cars from overtaking bicycles when it is unsafe.

Motorists should give cyclists a distance of at least 1.5 metres in built-up areas and two metres outside built-up areas when overtaking.

In future, there should also be a green arrow on traffic lights so they can turn right safely. From this year cyclists are also allowed to ride next to each other if this does not affect traffic.

READ ALSO: Bike nation? How Germany plans to improve cycling infrastructure

Turning assistant system for long trucks compulsory

For new long trucks (18.75 to 25.25 meters long), a turning assistant system (Abbiegeassistent) and flashing side marker lights will be mandatory when driving on German roads from July 1st, 2020. This equipment can help prevent serious accidents at intersections with cyclists.

For existing vehicles, retrofitting will be mandatory from July 1st, 2022.

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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.