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Many German traffic regulations may differ from those in your home country, so it is essential to familiarize yourself with the basic rules and to get acquainted with the international road signs. One main difference is the rule on right of way. Unless otherwise posted, vehicles entering an intersection from the right have the right of way. Also be aware that pedestrians have the right of way as soon as they step into a crosswalk. And beware of cyclists riding on the bike paths, particularly when you are making a right turn.

Your first impression may lead you to believe that Germans can park anywhere they please, even on the sidewalk. In fact, parking rules are a bit more regulated than it seems at first sight. Parking is generally permitted along the streets, unless there is a sign to the contrary. Signs will show whether parking or waiting is allowed or not, and whether you must park with two or four wheels on the sidewalk, or with a Parkscheibe: a cardboard disc, available at filling stations, which you must use in marked areas of limited but un-metered parking to indicate at what time you parked.

Radar cameras are widely used in Germany: either stationary cameras to enforce the speed limit in residential areas or mobile units camouflaged in the back of a minibus or at the side of the road. Either way, if the radar catches you in the act you will receive your ticket by mail in about 4-6 weeks.

Driving the Autobahn

You have almost certainly heard a great deal about the legendary German Autobahn ... and are either champing at the bit to get yourself onto this high-speed race course or facing the prospect with great trepidation. Here are a few cautionary words about driving on the Autobahn in both camps.While many stretches of the Autobahn have no speed limits, other areas do, and you are obligated by law to observe these posted limits. Remember: you can lose your license for a month or more if you are caught driving more than 30 km/h over the posted limit. Authorities are particularly strict around the many road construction sites (Baustellen) and many sections of the Autobahn post temporary speed limits during particularly bad weather, at times as low as 60 km/h.

On the unrestricted segments of the network, you will see most cars cruising along at 120-160 km/h, with some high-powered vehicles exceeding these speeds, while government traffic experts recommend 130 km/h (78mph) as a safe speed on unrestricted sections. Needless to say, the Autobahn can be very dangerous. It is particularly important to remember that at such high speeds the distance between you and a slow-moving truck or car in front of you can close much more rapidly than you are used to - and that cars can seem to appear out of nowhere in your rearview mirror. The basic rule of driving on the Autobahn is that passing is only permitted on the left. After you have passed someone, you should move over to the right.

Indeed, Germans almost religiously obey this basic rule, which is the key to a smooth flow of traffic at such high speeds. But some drivers are aggressive and tailgating goes on at these breakneck speeds. Although these practices have been outlawed recently, flashing headlights, or turning on the left turn signal, are ways that drivers behind you signal that they want to pass you. Should this happen, pull over to the next lane on the right as soon as possible. Indeed, it is best to travel in the far right lane until you have earned your wings through experience. Germany is also famous for its traffic jams (Staus), which you will want to avoid if you can. For instance, avoid travel on the first day or last day of a long weekend or extended school holidays. Otherwise, you may wish to turn on the automatic traffic report service on your car radio, which will interrupt regular programming with updated reports. Many GPS navigation systems can also interpret this data (using the TMC system) and will automatically suggest alternative routes to avoid the traffic jams.

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