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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.

A sign for entering a low-emissions zone in Dinslaken in North Rhine-Westphalia.
A sign for entering a low-emissions zone in Dinslaken in North Rhine-Westphalia. Photo: Roland Weihrauch/dpa

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.

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‘Almost half’ of Germans in favour of ban on e-scooters

Controversially seen speeding down the pavement in big German cities: a new study confirmed that E-scooters don't have the best reputation. Could they face a full ban?

'Almost half' of Germans in favour of ban on e-scooters

According to a YouGov survey commissioned by the German Press Agency (DPA), only 37 percent of people in Germany want e-scooter rentals to remain allowed in German cities, while a further 44 percent were in favour of a full-on ban. Nineteen percent declined to give an opinion.

Most of the respondents (71 percent) said they’d never tested out an e-scooter themselves while 12 percent only had once.

The controversial scooters, available to rent in most German cities to anyone over the age of 14, don’t require a special license to operate.

Since 2020, accidents involving their use have increased fivefold, leading police and safety organisations to call for a crackdown on how they’re used.

READ ALSO: Could Germany ban e-scooters following rise in accidents?

This could explain why an additional 61 percent of those surveyed think that road safety has worsened since e-scooters were approved for use on German roads in 2019.

An additional 76 percent of respondents also think that e-scooters should be parked in specially designated parking spaces. Thirteen percent were in favour of the roadside and twelve percent of the pavement as a Stellplatz, or parking place.

The representative survey, which took place between September 2nd to 4th, had a total of 2,004 participants over the age of 18.

Parked e-scooters in Stuttgart. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Christoph Schmidt

Concerns over safety

Even in cities such as Stuttgart and Berlin, which have specially designated areas to park E-scooters, the vehicles often end up scattered on sidewalks – with consequences.

“Older people have massive problems, and more often falls occur due to incorrectly parked E-scooters,” Jens-Peter Kruse from the Federal Association of Senior Citizens’ Organisations told DPA.

“In some cases, the e-scooters have been parked in such a way that it is downright provocative – across the cycle path, across the footpath,” Kruse added. 

“This is a very big danger for people with impaired vision, but also for all people who use this cycle path in the dark.”

The German Association for the Blind and Visually Impaired has filed lawsuits in Bremen, Münster and Berlin “to enforce fixed parking spaces on pavements,” deputy executive director Christiane Möller told DPA.

“There have been many accidents involving blind and visually impaired people and some no longer dare to go out on the street alone because of the fear of falling over scooters lying around. This is no longer acceptable.” 

In 2022 there were a total of 442 road accidents, up from 282 in 2021, according to Germany’s Statistical Office.

In 69.7 percent of the cases, the e-scooter drivers themselves were found to have caused the accidents.

Yet in places where authorities have worked to organise the street, “the situation has improved, at least in the inner city area”, Möller said.

Kruse from the Federal Working Group of Senior Citizens’ Organisations also called for fixed parking areas: “We must limit this uncontrolled growth immediately.” 

The Association of Towns and Municipalities considers these “a promising way, especially in dense inner city areas”. 

The control of parked vehicles without these parking zones is “only feasible with a lot of effort”.

However, according to the experts, only the e-scooters of rental companies are affected. Owners would treat their own vehicles with more care, and park them correctly.

This anger over rentable e-scooters already led to their ban in Paris: There, the rental business ended as of September 2022, after 89 percent of those involved opposed it in a citizens’ survey. 

But the Federal Working Group of Senior Citizens’ Organisations and the Association of Towns and Municipalities (DStGB) do not see a ban as a solution.

“The municipalities in Germany are not seeking a legal ban on e-scooters,” says the DStGB. “Something like this should only ever be a last resort. The focus should be on local solutions such as getting the vehicles insured and registered, and possibly requiring special licenses for those who drive them.”

According to the German Insurance Association (GDV), 764,000 e-scooters were registered in 2022.

Germany is currently the world’s second-largest market for e-scooter rental after the US. The vehicles can travel at speeds of up to 20 kilometres per hour.

READ ALSO: EXPLAINED: The rules for riding an e-scooter in Germany