| This page
last updated February 18, 2013
from the driver's view
The Autobahn is
the pinnacle of the German driving experience, perhaps the ultimate in
driving altogether. Virtually all of the world's serious drivers
have heard of it and longed to take their shot at conquering it.
Teutonic cars are known for their precise engineering and
craftsmanship; the Autobahn completes the driving equation.
Some people are
disappointed the first time they drive on the Autobahn. They come
with visions of a twenty-lane superhighway where cars are barely a blur
as they whiz by. In reality, the Autobahn looks like a typical
freeway, and despite rumors to the contrary, not everyone is hurtling
along at the speed of sound. The stories of speed anarchy are
only half correct-- many sections of Autobahn do in fact have speed
Autobahn offers the transcendent driving experience. The roads
are superbly designed, built and maintained, even now in the east where
the German government had to undo 40 years of Communist
"maintenance". Amenities are numerous, and drivers are
well-trained and cooperative. It's literally life in the fast
lane on the Autobahn. (Don't tell me you didn't see that coming.
On this page:
What is widely
regarded as the world's first motorway was built in Berlin between 1913
and 1921. The 19 km long AVUS ("Automobil-Verkehrs- und
Übungsstraße") in southwestern Berlin was an
experimental highway that was (and occasionally still is) used for
racing. It featured two 8 meter lanes separated by a 9 meter wide
median. Italy built several expressways in the 1920s and Germany
followed with its first "auto-only roads" opening in 1929 between
Düsseldorf and Opladen and in 1932 between Cologne and Bonn.
More routes were planned in the early '30s and Adolf Hitler, seeing the
propaganda benefits of a high-speed road system, started a program to
build two north-south and east-west links. The first of these Reichsautobahnen
opened on May 19th, 1935, between Frankfurt and Darmstadt. At the
end of World War II, the Autobahn network totaled 2,128 km.
Construction on new sections finally started again in 1953, with 144 km
added between 1953 and 1958, bringing the total to 2,272 km.
Starting in 1959, West Germany began Autobahn expansion in earnest by
embarking on a series of four-year plans that expanded the Bundesautobahnen
system to 3,076 km by 1964. Major additions continued during the
next two decades and the system reached 4,110 km in 1970, 5,258 km in
1973, 6,207 km in 1976, 7,029 km in 1979, and 8,080 km in 1984. A
new series of five-year plans, with the goal of putting an Autobahn
entrance within 10 km of any point in West Germany, had expanded the
net to over 8,800 km by 1990. The reunification of Germany in
1990, however, put those plans on hold as the federal government
focused on absorbing and upgrading the Autobahns it inherited from East
Germany. The incorporation of those eastern Autobahns put the
total Autobahn network at almost 11,000 km in 1992. Additions to
the unified network increased the total to 11,515 km in 2000 and 12,531
km in 2007. Until 2000, the Autobahn was the world's second
largest superhighway system after only the US Interstate System.
Today, however, the Autobahn network is the world's fourth
largest singular superhighway system after China, the United
States, and Spain.
Map of current
were rather crude by today's standards. The first Autobahns, like
their Italian counterparts, featured limited-access and grade-separated
crossings, but no medians. The first Reichsautobahnen did
have narrow medians but lacked shoulders, and ramps and waysides had
cobblestone surfaces. When Germany was reunified in 1989, the
Autobahns of East Germany were in virtually the same condition as they
were in 1945, exhibiting the aforementioned qualities as well as
inadequate signing, infrequent (and often non-functional) emergency
telephones frequently located in the center median, and service areas
consisting of a dilapidated roadhouse next to a wayside. Newer
West German Autobahns had for many years featured 3.75 meter wide
lanes, shoulders, landscaped medians with crash barriers, frequent
roadside emergency telephones, and ample, well-adorned service
areas. After reunification, the German government expedited
upgrading of the old East German Autobahns in a series of "German Unity
Transport Projects." By the end of 2009, the program was nearly
completed with about 2,100 km of upgraded or newly-built Autobahn.
section of Autobahn
rule for design is to provide for unimpeded, high-speed traffic
flow. Unimproved older segments aside, most Autobahns feature the
following design elements:
- Two, three, or
occasionally four lanes per direction. Lanes on rural sections
are generally 3.75 meters wide except the left lane of newer three lane
segments-- it's 3.5 meters wide. On urban sections, all lanes are
3.5 meters wide.
- A landscaped
"green" median 3.5 or 4 meters wide (3 meters in urban areas). A
double-sided guardrail runs down the middle. Blinders are often
used on curves. Some newer sections have concrete barriers
instead of green medians.
emergency shoulders and long acceleration and deceleration lanes.
grade-separation and access control, generally provided by half
cloverleaf interchanges at exits and full cloverleafs or directional
interchanges at Autobahn crossings. Interchanges are generally
well-spaced, sometimes exceeding 30 km between.
- Grades of 4%
or less. Climbing lanes are provided on most steep grades.
- Gentle and
Freeze-resistant concrete or bituminous surface.
- Roadbed and
surface typically measuring about 75 cm (30 inches) in thickness.
Autobahns also feature the following amenities:
guide posts at 50 meter intervals.
parking areas, often equipped with toilet facilities.
- Extensive and
ample service areas featuring fuel stations, restaurants, and hotels.
traffic and weather monitoring and electronic signs providing dynamic
speed limits and/or advance warning of congestion, accidents,
construction, and fog.
telephones at 2 km intervals.
detour routes to facilitate emergency closures.
protection fencing, crossover tunnels and "green bridges".
superb. Crews inspect every square meter of the system
periodically using vehicles with high-tech road scanning
equipment. When a fissure or other defect is found, the entire
road section is replaced. Signs, barriers, and other features are
also well maintained.
Generally speaking, the mainline Autobahn routes avoid the
metropolitan cores. Instead, spur routes provide Autobahn access
into and within the cities. These spurs are usually built as
"urban Autobahns" (Stadtautobahn). Design features of
urban Autobahns include six or eight lane elevated or depressed
roadways with frequent and more closely-spaced diamond
interchanges. The standard rural signage standards are suspended
in favor of more appropriate closely-spaced overhead signs. There
are sometimes no emergency phones or roadside reflector posts.
Tunnels, overpasses, and sound barriers are more frequent and nighttime
illumination is often provided.
To help maintain safe grades, the Autobahn system is
well-provisioned with tunnels and bridges. So-called "valley
bridges" (Talbrücke) are often over 500 meters high and
sometimes over 1 kilometer long. The Autobahn system now has over
65 tunnels, both through mountains as well as in urban areas. As
a result of the tunnel disasters elsewhere in Europe during the past
decade, extra emphasis has been placed on tunnel safety. All
Autobahn tunnels have extensive safety systems including
24-hour monitoring, motorist information radio and signs, frequent
refuge rooms with emergency telephones and firefighting equipment,
emergency lighting and exits, and smoke ventilation systems.
Autobahn tunnel (left) and valley bridge (right)
facilitate heavy, high-speed traffic, special laws apply when driving
on the Autobahn:
mopeds, and pedestrians are specifically prohibited from using the
Autobahn, as are any other vehicles with a maximum speed rating of less
than 60 km/h (36 mph).
- Passing on
the right is strictly prohibited! Slower vehicles must move
to the right to allow faster traffic to pass, and drivers should stay
in the right lane except to pass. When passing, you must do so as
quickly as possible, and it's in your best interest to do so lest you
become a hood ornament on that Porsche that was just a speck in your
mirror a second ago and now is close enough for you to see the look of
distain on the driver's face. You are, however, allowed to pass
on the right in heavy traffic when vehicles have started queuing, but
only at a slow speed. You may also pass on the right while you
are still in the designated acceleration lane upon entering the
parking, U-turns, and backing-up are strictly verboten,
including on shoulders and ramps (except for bonafide emergencies of
- Entering and
exiting is permitted only at marked interchanges.
- Traffic entering the Autobahn must yield to traffic already on
- On Autobahn sections with three travel lanes, trucks over 3.5
tonnes and any vehicle with a trailer are prohibited from using the far
- During traffic
jams, motorists in the left lane are required to move as far to the
left as possible and those in the adjacent center or right lane must
move as far to the right in their lane as possible, thus creating a gap
(Rettungsgasse) between the
lanes for emergency vehicles to pass through.
- If you have a
breakdown or accident, you must move to the shoulder if possible and
place a warning triangle 200 meters behind the scene. You must
report the incident to the authorities using the nearest emergency
phone (see below).
- It is illegal to run out of fuel on the Autobahn.
Technically, there is no law specifically against this, but it is
illegal to stop unnecessarily on the Autobahn and this law is also
applied to people who run out of fuel as such an occurrence is deemed
to be preventable.
- There are no
tolls for passenger vehicles to use the Autobahn. However, trucks
now must pay a per-kilometer fee. This fee is collected
In addition to
the official laws, most drivers follow the following customs:
- Motorists at
the rear of a traffic jam usually switch on their hazard blinkers to
warn approaching traffic of the slowdown.
- Many drivers
flash their high beams ("Lichthupe",
or "light honking") or switch on their left turn signal to
politely (or not) request that you vacate the left lane to let them
pass. There are conflicting opinions about whether this is legal
or not and why, but there are reports that drivers have been cited for
doing this. So while there is no specific law regarding this, it
appears that such actions can be construed to violate Germany's
coercion laws, so do so at your own risk.
widespread belief of complete freedom from speed limits (and a lobbying
effort that has the same influence and deep pockets as the American gun
lobby), some speed regulations can be found on the Autobahns.
Many sections do indeed have permanent or dynamic speed limits ranging
from 80 to 130 km/h (50-80 mph), particularly those with dangerous
curves, in urban areas, near major interchanges, or with unusually
constant heavy traffic. In construction zones, the limit may be
as low as 60 km/h (37 mph). Also, some sections now feature
nighttime and wet-weather speed restrictions, and trucks are always
regulated (see table below). That said, about two-thirds
of the Autobahn network has no permanent speed limit, although there is
always an advisory limit of 130 km/h (81 mph). This
recommendation is generally seen for what it is-- an attempt by the
government to cover itself without having to upset millions of Porsche
and BMW owners/voters. However, if you exceed the advisory limit
and are involved in an accident, you could be held responsible for some
of the damages even if you are not at fault.
| MAXIMUM SPEED LIMITS
(These are "default" limits; where posted, signs
override these limits)
Vehicles that are
limited to a lower speed limit will usually have a decal resembling a
speed limit sign displayed on the back of a vehicle indicating the
speed it is authorized to travel depending on its specific
characteristics. In some cases, those vehicles may be authorized
to travel slower or faster than the general limit and will display the
appropriate decal indicating such.
Over 3,200 km of
Autobahn now feature dynamic speed limits which are adjusted to respond
to traffic, weather, and road conditions. These speed limits and
conditions are indicated using a rather elaborate system of electronic
signs (see below).
A movement by the
environmentalist Green party to enact a national speed limit has not
made great strides. The Greens claim that the high speeds
contribute to air pollution which has caused widespread Waldsterben,
or forest destruction. As a result, some Autobahns in forest
areas have seen new limits imposed, but a national limit remains
unlikely, as demonstrated during the coalition government negotiations
in 1998. In those talks between the then-new Federal Chancellor
Gerhard Schroeder's Social Democrat party and the Greens, one of the
final points to be resolved was the Greens' desire for a nationwide 100
km/h speed limit on the Autobahns. In the end, a compromise was
struck whereby energy taxes would be raised and local governments could
reduce speed limits on city streets, but no national Autobahn speed
limit would be implemented. Subsequent discussions by various
groups of a possible blanket limit have met with immediate and
formidable political resistance.
A national speed limit of 100 km/h (60 mph) was enacted in November
1973 during the energy crisis. It was repealed less than four months
In 2008, the federal city-state of Bremen enacted a 120 km/h speed
limit on all Autobahns in that state, the first and thus far only
federal state to do so. However, in practice, this only affected
6 km of Autobahn as the remainder of the 60 km of Autobahn in that
state already had speed limits in place.
Despite the prevailing high speeds, the accident, injury and death
rates on the Autobahn are remarkably low. The Autobahn carries
about a third of all Germany's traffic, but injury accidents on the
Autobahn account for only 6% of such accidents nationwide and less than
12% of all traffic fatalities were the result of Autobahn crashes
(2009). In fact, the annual fatality rate (2.7 per billion km in
2009) is consistently lower than that of most other superhighway
systems, including the US Interstates (4.5 in 2009). Furthermore,
a 2005 study by the German government found that Autobahn
sections without speed limits had the same accident rate as those with
"End of all restrictions" sign, indicating the
end of all
speed limit and passing restrictions
Because of Germany's location in central Europe, traffic on the
Autobahn is generally quite heavy. In 2008, motorists logged a
staggering 225.3 billion kilometers on the Autobahn, averaging almost
50,000 vehicles per day on any given segment. As a result,
traffic jams (Stau) occur frequently on the Autobahn, especially
on Fridays, Sundays, holidays, and anytime after an accident or during
bad weather or construction. Regional traffic reports, with a
variety of names including Verkehrsmeldungen, Verkehrsdienst,
Verkehrsfunk, and Stauschau, are excellent and are
provided on most radio stations. Germany is divided into several
traffic reporting regions (Verkehrsrundfunkbereich); signs along the road indicate the local radio
stations carrying the traffic reports for the region you are in.
You will need to have a working knowledge of German to understand them,
In addition to radio traffic reports, many sections of Autobahn are
equipped with traffic monitoring systems and electronic signs (see
below) to warn of downstream incidents or congestion and to provide
a controlled reduction in the speed of traffic as it approaches the
jam. On sections without electronic signs, the Autobahn police (Autobahnpolizei)
do an excellent job of warning of unexpected jams via portable roadside
signs, signs mounted on police cars parked along the shoulder, or on
banners draped from overpasses. Traffic information is also
available from several other resources including the websites of radio
and TV stations, auto clubs, and government agencies, and increasingly
through on-board telematics systems.
weekend and holiday Autobahn traffic
A couple of notes
about traffic reports: sometimes the "traffic report" may include
information that has nothing to do with traffic such as emergency
alerts, police bulletins, etc. Also, if you have a German rental
car with a cassette or CD player, don't be surprised if your favorite
tape or disc is interrupted by reports of a Stau somewhere--
German radio tuners continue to monitor the last-selected radio station
even when a tape or CD is being played. Radio stations broadcast
a special tone at the start of traffic reports which causes the tuner
to switch the audio from the tape or CD to the radio so that you can
hear the information. Traffic reports use one of several terms to
describe varying levels of congestion: "Stau" usually means a
colossal traffic jam where you'll probably get to know the people in
the cars around you, "stockender Verkehr" indicates the only
slightly more tolerable stacking or slow-and-go type traffic, while "dichter
Verkehr" or "zähfliesender Verkehr" denotes the
hardly-noteworthy heavy or sluggish but moving traffic.
As a stopgap measure to help improve traffic flow, traffic is now
being permitted to use the emergency shoulder as a traffic lane during
congested periods along some sections of Autobahn. Lane control
signals, signs, or other cars doing so
indicate when this is permissible.
Autobahn with shoulder open to traffic
Construction & closures
Autobahn maintenance and improvements don't escape the German
penchant for obsessiveness. As a result, construction zones (Baustelle)
are frequent and widespread. The standard protocol for large
projects is a traffic shift-- the lanes for both directions are
narrowed and crammed onto one side of the Autobahn so that the other
side can be worked on in its entirety. Such situations are
well-marked with signs and speed
limits are usually reduced greatly in these areas.
Note the yellow road markings. These supersede all regular markings in
In the event that
a segment of Autobahn must be closed due to an accident or other
emergency, pre-posted provisional detours are ready to guide traffic
around the closure. As you exit, look for the U-numbered detour sign on the exit ramp-- this denotes
the detour route for that exit. Follow the same-numbered route
over the secondary roads and you'll eventually arrive at the next
downstream entrance ramp. If that entrance is also closed, just
follow the next sequential detour number to reach the next entrance
after that. However, there is one small gotcha-- odd numbers
continue in one direction, even numbers in the opposite
direction. So if you're following an odd numbered route, be sure
to follow the next sequential odd number (and, obviously the
same goes for even-numbered routes.) These routes also come in
quite handy if your patience runs-out and you want to get around a Stau.
The Autobahn has
an extensive system of service areas (Rasthof, Raststätte) generally spaced
between 40 and 60 kilometers apart. These usually feature a fuel
station (Tankstelle), restaurant or snack bar, convenience
store, telephones, and restrooms. Many also feature hotels,
showers, playgrounds, conference rooms, and chapels. There are
over 700 service areas in operation and they're open 24 hours a
day. A brochure with maps and charts showing the network of
service areas and the facilities available at each can be obtained at
any service area and is also available on the web (see links below).
the approach of a service area give the name of the service area, the
distance to it, and one or more pictograms indicating the services
The white sign at the bottom indicates the distance to the next service
areas, many equipped with restrooms (WC), are even more abundant
along the Autobahn. These are marked with signs like the one
sign for parking area w/ WC
The past couple
of decades has seen the proliferation of service facilities (mainly
fuel stations and fast-food restaurants) just off Autobahn exit
ramps. Especially increasing in popularity are truck stops (Autohof).
These generally offer facilities comparable to the service areas, but
usually at considerably lower prices. Most are now marked by
special signs on the Autobahn like the one below.
Signs & markings
Signage on the Autobahn
is excellent. All direction signs on the Autobahn as well as
those giving directions to the Autobahn are white on blue.
Signage before interchanges is standard both in form and
Overhead signs are being
used increasingly more frequently. These signs generally take on
the forms shown in the various pictures below. Note that the
route number shields are typically located at the bottom of the signs
rather than at the top like in the US. Drivers should also be
aware that unlike the US, directions on the Autobahn (as well as other
roads) are not given using the cardinal directions (North, South, East,
West), but rather by destination cities. Know what the major
cities are along your route before you start out. A helpful
idiosyncrasy is the tendency to list major cities on signs on
connecting Autobahns that lead toward
another Autobahn route that will actually take you to that city.
The most important cities start appearing on signs hundreds of
kilometers away. One other peculiarity is that when several
cities are listed, the farthest city is generally listed first or on
top; in the US, it's usually the opposite. The last place listed
is usually the name of the next exit. Finally, you may come
across names that include a one or two letter abbreviation (e.g.
"S-Degerloch" or "HH-Zentrum"); these correspond to the official
license plate registration city abbreviations and indicate an exit for
a district or other destination in that city. So "S-Degerloch"
would be the exit for "Stuttgart-Degerloch" while "HH-Zentrum" denotes
"Hamburg-Zentrum", or downtown Hamburg.
guide signs for Autobahn crossing
overhead advance guide sign for exit
signs at Autobahn crossing
"butterfly" exit signs
Autobahns bear a one,
two, or three digit number with an "A" prefix (e.g. A 8); however, the
"A" is not shown on signs. The one and two digit numbers indicate
mainline routes; three digit routes are spurs. Route numbers are
assigned by region (e.g. the area around Munich is region 9, so most
Autobahns in that area start with 9) and even-numbered routes generally
run east-west while odd-numbered routes north-south. Route
numbers for spurs and connectors usually start with the parent number
followed by an additional digit or two to make three digits total (e.g.
the A831 branches off of the A8; the A241 branches off of the
A24.) Route markers are an oblong white and blue hexagon:
Here are the main signs
you will encounter:
- Marks entrance ramps to the Autobahn and indicates the start
of Autobahn traffic regulations
- This symbol is also used on signs giving directions to the
interchange approach sign
- Placed 1000 meters before exits; 2000 meters before Autobahn
- Shows the interchange number and name
- The symbol indicates the type of interchange:
interchange directional sign
- Placed 500 meters before exits; 1000 meters and 500 meters
before Autobahn crossings
- Shows a schematic of the interchange and gives additional
destinations and route numbers
- Placed 300 meters (3 stripes), 200 meters (2 stripes), and
100 meters (1 stripe) before the exit
- Interchange number appears atop the 300 meter marker
- Located at exit point
- Occasionally placed in the median
- When placed overhead, may be repeated several times above
the exit lane
- Shown on the initial interchange approach sign and on the
first interchange countdown marker
- Interchanges are numbered sequentially
|| Provisional detour
- Marks a pre-posted detour route for use in the event that
the Autobahn must be closed
- Follow the same-numbered route to return to the next
- Can also be used to bypass Autobahn congestion
- Odd numbers go in one direction, even numbers in the
|| Provisional detour schematic
- Used to direct Autobahn traffic to the next sequential
provisional detour route when traffic cannot return to the Autobahn at
the next entrance
|| Alternate route
- Indicates a recommended alternate route on the Autobahn
system for specific vehicles or destinations in order to avoid
- Type of vehicle or destination will be shown in conjunction
with this sign
- Placed after every entrance
- Lists distances to major cities along the route
- Distances to other nearby major cities accessible from an
intersecting Autobahn are listed at the bottom with the respective
of Autobahn Sign
- Located on exit ramps from the Autobahn and indicates the end
of Autobahn traffic regulations
- Also used to warn when the Autobahn mainline ends ahead
Examples of diagram signs
for complex interchanges
Pavement markings on the
Autobahn are fairly obvious. You can see examples of several of these
in the picture below and on other pictures on this page:
- Solid white line:
Marks the left edge of the road or, on the right side, marks the inside
of the shoulder or the right edge of the road. Also used
sometimes between traffic lanes to indicate that changing lanes is not
- Long, thin
broken white lines: Separate traffic lanes.
thick broken white lines: Separate a deceleration (exit) lane or
acceleration (entrance) lane from the main traffic lanes.
markings: Mark the restricted area at an exit gore.
markings: Used in construction zones and supersede all regular
See the Signs and Signals page for complete
information on German road signs and markings.
Typical lane markings
During the past couple of decades, German traffic engineers have
developed sophisticated traffic control systems to manage traffic along
many Autobahns and urban expressways. These automated systems
consist of surveillance cameras, speed monitors, and special electronic
variable message signs, as well as equipment to detect and
automatically warn of fog, rain, and ice. The primary intent of
these systems is to gradually and systematically reduce the speed of
traffic approaching or driving through areas with congestion,
construction, or hazardous weather conditions. Studies have shown
that these systems have reduced accidents by as much as 30% within
three years of being installed. The first such system was tested
in the early '80s on the A8/A81 near Stuttgart and has since been
expanded to over 1,300 km of Autobahn, especially those subject to
frequent congestion or dangerous weather conditions, as well as in and
approaching tunnels. These systems have also been installed on
several non-Autobahn urban expressways, and the government is spending
€40 million a year to continue their expansion.
signs showing 100 km/h speed limit and construction ahead
While you will find some
electronic signs that just show plain text messages (similar to those
in use in the US), most of the systems in use display facsimiles of
official traffic signs. These allow authorities to use the
standard pictogram signs to warn of downstream conditions or to
implement dynamic regulations. A common use is the temporary
implementation or reduction of speed limits to respond to traffic,
road, or weather conditions. Occasionally, these speed limits are
set per lane. It is important to obey the speed limits indicated
by these signs and you will find that the limits shown are generally
very appropriate for the prevailing traffic or weather
conditions. It should be noted that the speed limits and other
regulations shown are indeed enforceable, and many areas are also
equipped with photo radar that is integrated with the system (and thus
is aware of the current speed limit). The signs can also indicate
lane closures using the standard international lane control
symbols. Below are examples of these electronic signs.
|| Road work
|| Slippery road
|| Watch for ice or snow
| Speed limit
| No passing for vehicles
|| End of speed limit
|| End of no passing for
vehicles over 3.5t
|| End of all restrictions
| Lane open
|| Lane closed ahead
Merge in the direction indicated
| Lane closed
You may not drive in this lane
In addition to the
symbols above, the following word messages are used, usually in
conjunction with the "danger" sign:
In addition to marking lanes closed by accidents or
construction, lane control signals are used in some areas to close
lanes to help reduce congestion at interchanges. For instance, if
there is significantly heavier traffic merging from Autobahn 1 onto
Autobahn 2, the right lane on Autobahn 2 will be closed to provide an
unobstructed lane for the heavier traffic to merge into.
Electronic signs showing left lane closed ahead and 100km
speed limit in open lanes
When different speed limits are shown on a single gantry, the
limit shown applies to the lane under the sign. In the example
below, the speed limit in the left lane would be 120 km/h, 100 km/h in
the center lane, and 80 km/h in the right lane.
Over 1,700 km of Autobahn are part of dynamic
alternate route systems. These systems employ changeable guide
signs which, when activated, display recommended alternate route
guidance to help drivers avoid congestion. Some areas employ
"substitutive routing" where the destinations shown on the standard
blue guide signs are changed using mechanical panels to re-route
traffic onto different routes. In other areas, "additive routing"
is utilized. In this case, the regular blue guide signs are
static, but additional white signs with changeable panels and the big
orange "alternate route" arrow symbol are used. The arrow points
in the recommended direction to follow along with the destination city,
route number, or vehicle types (e.g. trucks) that the suggested
alternate route applies to. For instance, in the picture below,
traffic headed to Deggendorf and the Munich airport is being advised to
exit in 1200 meters and follow the A99 and A92. Once you are on
one of these alternate routes, continue to follow alternate route arrow
signs until you have reached your destination or have returned to the
original route. Note that many times much of the alternate route
is marked by permanent static signs, but a dynamic sign is used at the
initial "decision point".
sign showing recommended alternate route
In the event of an accident, breakdown, or other emergency
along the Autobahn, you are never more than a kilometer away from
help. Emergency telephones (Notrufsäule) are located
at 2 km intervals along the sides of the road. The direction to
the nearest phone is indicated by small arrows atop the roadside
reflector posts. In long tunnels, emergency phones are located in
refuge rooms every 100-200 meters.
Autobahn emergency phone
Roadside post with arrow pointing
direction to nearest emergency phone
The emergency phone system was privatized a decade
ago. All calls go to a central call center in Hamburg. In
the event of an accident, dispatchers there will immediately connect
the caller to the nearest police or emergency services office.
For breakdowns, the dispatcher will obtain the information necessary to
send the appropriate service. This may include the "Yellow
Angels" of the ADAC or AvD auto club, a tow truck, or an insurance,
dealership, or rental car repair service. Roadside assistance is
free, but you'll likely have to pay for parts. If you need to be
towed, there is no charge to remove the vehicle from the Autobahn, but
you will have to pay for towing beyond that. If you're driving a
rental car, all services should be covered by the rental agency.
Depending on the time of day, volume of calls, and traffic conditions,
response time for a breakdown may vary from a few minutes to possibly
over an hour.
There are now two varieties of emergency phones in
use. On the older phones, you will find a cover with a
handle. Lift the cover all the way and wait for a dispatcher to
answer. The newer phones don't have a cover; instead, they have
an external speaker/microphone area with two buttons that you can press
to connect you to the appropriate dispatcher. There is a yellow
button with a wrench symbol for reporting a breakdown and a red button
with a red cross to report an accident. Press the appropriate
button and wait for a reply. In most cases, the location of the
phone is transmitted automatically when your call is connected.
If not, you will need to give the dispatcher the kilometer location of
the phone as indicated on a label on the inside of the cover or near
the speaker and your direction of travel. For an accident, report
the number of vehicles involved and any injuries. For a
breakdown, be prepared to report the vehicle's license number, make and
model, color, and your auto club, insurance company, or rental
agency. An English-speaking dispatcher is usually available.
demonstrating how to use an
old-style emergency phone
After calling, return to your vehicle or the accident scene
and wait for help. For breakdowns, someone will arrive shortly to
assist you. In the event of an accident, a cavalry of emergency
aid will descend on you. Police, fire service, ambulances, and
emergency doctors all respond to Autobahn crashes. A medical
evacuation helicopter is also always on standby.
Old-style emergency phone
New-style emergency phone
sites of interest