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German motorways – what you need to know

Polish drivers associate motorways in Germany with sports cars rushing towards the setting sun without speed limits. After all, our western neighbour is considered the cradle of the world automotive industry. How much truth is there in this belief? Can you speed through German motorways without a speed limit? Welcome to our guide to the fastest roads in Europe.

The motorway network in Germany

German motorways are a key element of the national road network. Their total length is 13 192 km, which places Germany in second in Europe in terms of the length of its highways. Similarly to Poland, motorways in Germany are marked with the letter “A” and have specific numbering which indicates the direction and approximate location of the road. German freeways with:

  • odd numbers run north-south
  • even numbers have an east-west direction
  • numbers 1 to 9 indicate main routes, usually international
  • two- and three-digits imply regional roads, with the first digit indicating the location

Are there tolls on freeways in Germany?

The Polish government announced free highways as one of the important points of its election campaign. What is the situation like abroad? We have good news for all those who are planning to travel to Germany. Highways in this country are free for passenger cars, motorcycles and trucks with a GVW of up to 7.5 tons. However, it is quite likely that this will change in the next few years. Ideas are being put forth, dictated by environmental reasons, to introduce at least minimal fees for selected groups of drivers, e.g. from abroad.

Tolls on freeways in Germany

There are always exceptions to every rule. In the case of German motorways, these are two toll tunnels:

  • Warnowquerung – the drive costs 3.80 or 4.70 euros depending on the season
  • Herrentunnel – the fixed fee is 2.10 euros for passenger cars

Drivers of trucks with a GVW above 7.5 tons used for road transport of goods also have to pay fees.

Speed ​​limits on German motorways

Speed ​​limits in Germany, just like in Poland, depend on the type of road and the surrounding buildings. In built-up areas, the speed limit is 50 km/h, which is the same as the regulations in most European countries. Passenger cars can travel on expressways at speeds of up to 100 km/h, which is often quite a surprise for Polish drivers. What are the restrictions on German motorways? The recommended speed on these roads is 130 km/h for passenger cars. However, this is only a guideline, not an unconditionally binding limit.

German motorways without speed limits – truth or myth?

Just driving a car on the highway does not require us to drive at a certain speed. The common sense principle of adjusting the speed to road conditions applies here. The restrictions only apply to trucks (80 km/h). However, in many areas there are local speed limits for all types of vehicles, or speed limits for one lane. Which basically means that driving without speed limits on German highways is only possible on a few stretches. According to data presented by the road authority in Germany, the average speed of passenger cars on these roads is 125 km/h.

How to avoid a fine on a motorway in Germany

  • use the left lane only for overtaking; return to the right lane after completing the manoeuvre, otherwise, you may face a fine of EUR 80
  • follow the speed limits applicable to the vehicle you are driving, otherwise, you may be fined between 30 and 700 euros
  • when driving a truck with a GVW above 3.5 tons, you cannot drive in the left lane on multi-lane highways
  • never overtake another vehicle on the right, even if you are driving in the middle lane

German road signs on highways

Each country has its own road sign system. It is somewhat standardized in the European Union, but there are still some significant differences between countries. In the case of German highways, it is worth paying attention to two characteristic signs that cannot be found on Polish roads. The first is the number 130 placed on a blue background. This is the recommended speed, not the speed limit, as mentioned earlier in the article. 

Another unusual sign that may surprise you is the black and white hourglass. This is part of a pilot project of the Federal Ministry for Digital and Transport (BMDV) that involves autonomous vehicles. If you see a round sign with a black and white hourglass, you can simply ignore it.

Summary: myths about German motorways debunked

As you may have already realized, the myths about German motorways are not entirely true. There are some exceptions to every rule. Free highways? Yes. But only for specific groups of vehicles and excluding two toll tunnels. No speed limits? Theoretically this is true, but in reality there are local speed limits on motorways. If you are planning to drive on German motorways, remember to most importantly use common sense and adjust your driving speed to the road conditions.