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Legal Issues for Drivers in Germany
Traffic Rules and Regulations
Germany is one of the safer countries to drive in. However, due to the lack of speed limits on expressways, many major accidents do occur, especially pile-ups during rush hour. Law enforcement has implemented radar speed checks on traffic lights as well as hidden surveillance in unmarked cars. Speeding is taken extremely seriously, and fines are quite high for driving even just a little over the limit. Speed limits in Germany are generally as follows; do take care to read road signs, though, as limits may change due to various reasons and are not always indicated with the use of speed limit signs:
- in towns and cities: 50 km/h
- in residential areas: 30 km/h
- open roads: 100 km/h
- Autobahn (i.e. expressways): none (suggested: 130 km/h)
Alcohol-impaired driving is taken very seriously in Germany as well: The legal limit for your blood alcohol content is 0.5‰; 0.3‰ if you are involved in an accident or show visible signs of impairment; absolutely zero if you have had your license for less than a year. High fines of up to EUR 3,000, loss of license, and even jail sentences await you if you are caught.
Germany uses a computerized point system for traffic violations. From May 1st 2014 onwards, you can incur up to three points if your offence endangered traffic safety. You begin with zero points. Once you reach eight demerit points, your license is immediately revoked. To get it back, you need to take a physical and mental status examination (MPU). You can only get your license back if you pass this test successfully.
A seatbelt law is enforced for all passengers in the car, and a EUR 30 fine will be incurred per unbelted person. Children who are under the age of 12 or not yet 1.5 meters tall must have special seats in the back of the car. Proper child restraints, especially for children under four, must be fitted accordingly.
The use of handheld cell phones while driving is illegal in Germany. You must also carry a first aid kit, visibility vests, and emergency triangles in your vehicle at all times. Also make sure to have your registration certificate (Fahrzeugschein) with you, but do not leave it in your unattended car: If it is stolen, this will cause quite a hassle.
Importing, Registering, and Insuring Your Vehicle
If you are planning on importing your car from another EU member state, you should have no difficulties. You must simply insure and then register it at the motor vehicles registration office (Kfz-Zulassungsstelle), which is usually located adjacent to the driver’s license office. In most cases, the following documents are sufficient:
- proof of purchase
- proof of identity and legal residence in Germany
- foreign car registration certificate
- certificate of conformity with EU environmental standards
- general technical check-up and emissions testing (for cars older than three years)
- clearance certificate (proof that this car hasn’t been registered in Germany before)
- insurance card
- customs certificate
If your car is approved, you will receive temporary plates. The license plate office is usually also located near the registration office, and you can go there directly and apply for permanent plates.
If you ship your car to Germany, it will go to the technical inspection agency (TÜV) directly after passing through customs. If you drive it into Germany and do not go through customs, the inspection must be done within 90 days of the vehicle’s arrival in Germany. If your car does not pass the TÜV, you will not be allowed to drive it on German streets. In order to ensure that your car passes the TÜV, go to a garage and get it tuned and fixed.
Automobile registration and insurance in Germany go hand-in-hand. You cannot register your car without proof of insurance. Every driver must have third-party liability insurance (called Haftpflichtversicherung) on their vehicle. There are other types of insurance available as well, such as full comprehensive or partial coverage for theft or fire. A good source for enquiring about types and costs of car insurance is the German automobile club ADAC.
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