Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Driving in Germany

While living in The United States, I heard all sorts of rumors about driving in Germany!
* There's no speed limit on the autobahn!
* German's drive at speed exceeding 200mph!
* Germans are cautious, safe and orderly drivers!
* Germans obey every traffic law, sign and signal!
All of these rumors are completely and utterly false!  While there are some stretches of the autobahn in rural areas that don't have speed limits, much of it is actually speed regulated.  The German autobahn is not unlike the interstates and expressways of The United States.  The number of lanes, traffic, speed limits, road construction, driving conditions and mental stability of the other drivers depends on where you are, where you're going and what time of day it is.

Urban driving is just as crazy in Berlin as it is in Chicago.  While much of what I heard about Germany being a very orderly society is true, this concept get's tossed out the drivers side window once they're behind the wheel of a car!  To be fair, not all Germans are crazy drivers.  And, the drivers I've seen who have pulled absolutely crazy stunts are good enough to get away with it.  I've only seen one car accident in the past two months.

Here's what I've noticed about the road signals, signs and conditions while driving in Berlin, Germany. (If any of this information is incorrect, please contact me so that I can update it accordingly).  Many of the road signs are similar to the signs in The United States. The signal lights are also very similar.  Instead of three distinct lights, there are only two.  The top light alternates between the yellow and red colors and the bottom light is green.  There is always a yellow light warning you to prepare to stop, but there is also a yellow light given before the green to prepare you to go.

Some intersections have signal lights and these lights are to be acknowledged.  Some intersections have signs and the signs are to be acknowledged.  Some intersections have both signal lights and signs.  When and intersection has both, the signal lights are to be acknowledged unless they're not working or have been turned off for the night.  When the signal lights are off, then the signs are to be acknowledged.  To save energy costs, there are a number of intersections where signal lights are turned off for the night or when traffic is low.

STOP signs look exactly the same in Germany as they do in The United States, however they are much rarer.  When approaching many intersections, you'll notice either a Yellow Diamond or a Red and White Triangle.  A Yellow Diamond means that you have the right of way.  The Red and White Triangle means one should yield to oncoming traffic.  In either case, an intersection should be approached with caution as these signs are not always entirely respected.  If there are no signals or signs at the intersection, all of the cars to the right have the right of way before the cars on the left can proceed.  Many Germans respect this rule and the cars on the right are almost always given the right of way.   Thus, if four law abiding German drivers approach an intersection at the same time, each will look to the right and no one will move until one of the drivers dies of starvation or old age...  Then, the driver to the right of the deceased has the right of way!

Also important to note, gas prices in Germany are absolutely insane.  Germans pay double and sometimes even triple the price that Americans do for gas.  Every time an American complains about gas prices, a German laughs and cries at the same time!  If one can avoid driving here, especially if they are a student or not going on a long journey, it's usually cheaper to take public transportation or ride the bike.

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