What it is like to drive on Germany’s autobahn?

This symbol means your speed is limited only safety considerations.
This symbol means your speed is limited only by safety considerations.

The autobahn

Criss crossing throughout Germany is a complex network of highways, collectively known as the autobahn. Traffic is controlled by an omnipotent authority and speed limits are changed according to need. In regular places on the autobahn, there is literally no speed limit. I am not quite sure why this is allowed in Germany and no where else. Maybe because the German constitution is painstaking in protecting personal freedom and because people have to participate in extensive driver training and testing before they are allowed to have a German licence.

Stick to your lane

On the autobahn people drive in the lanes they are supposed to. Pretty much most of the time. Trucks really do stick to the slow lane, most cars travel in the middle lane and Mercedes, Audis, Porches and BMWs all travel in the fast lane.

Occasionally a misguided VW may move into the fast lane in order to overtake When this happens, watch out. They seem to lack the power or commitment to make the move at the speed of the fast traffic lane. What this means is that if you are driving at 180kms/hr in the fast lane, you need to be on the alert in case a VW pulls out in front of you doing 120kms/hr. Its similar to driving into a parked car.

do you know how to stop?

I once participated in the Melbourne Mercedes Benz driver training course and discovered a lot of features in the Mercedes that I didn’t know were there, let alone know how to use. When I was first taught to drive, you had to slowly pump your brakes in order to slow at high speed. These days, with ABS braking systems, you do not have to do this. In order to teach us this lesson, the instructors had us drive on a racetrack as fast as we could go, take our hands off the steering wheel and slam on the brakes. The cars just stopped. They did not fish tail around as we all thought they would. You need to know this information when you drive on the autobahn.


When can I put my foot down?

Drivers are expected to use their understanding of road, traffic and weather conditions to judge what speed they can safely drive at. So if it is a clear day with little wind and light traffic, then drivers are free to put their foot down in an unlimited speed area and go as fast as they like. I cannot describe to you how fantastic that feeling is.

Having spent most of my adult life puttering along Australia’s wide open roads at a maximum of 110kms/hr the feeling is one of freedom, pure and simple. In Germany, I tend to cruise between 150 and 180kms/hr.

There are no green bananas on the autobahn

Time is different on the autobahn. If you are driving in Australia, France or Britain, for example, you can look ahead and see that in a minute or so you may have to slow down. On the autobahn, you don’t have that time. If you see it, a moment later you will be there. You have to react very fast. But not over react. You need to be acutely aware all the time, at just the right level of tension so you can react just the right amount. It can be exhausting but it is also exhilarating. It gives you a hint at why so many people follow Formula One.

Information overload

You get a lot of information from your satnav.
You get a lot of information from your satnav.

There is also a lot of information coming in at you, from the road, gantries across the road and your satnav. Not only will your satnav show the route and give you directions, but it will tell you whether there is an accident, a general slow down or serious banked up congestion ahead.

We have the Mercedes Benz ‘Heads Up’ feature in our C Class so that the speed limit and your car’s speed are projected onto the windscreen. It is very helpful because it means you can monitor your speed and keep your eye on the road. Essential stuff when you are driving on the autobahn.

Enjoy the ride

Lastly, you need to be alert but also a bit relaxed. You can not hold yourself tight the whole time if you are travelling on a longer journey. You body will get stiff and ache. You really just need to do your best and enjoy the ride.

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1 thought on “What it is like to drive on Germany’s autobahn?

  1. Allison Reply

    I tried out the unlimited speed a few years ago in our B class. As you say, you have little time to react, and i was not sure of the road, so found that around 150 was my comfort zone. Your comment about drivers in the fast lane was amusing. Here in France it’s BMWs, Audi’s and VWs, with the odd Merc…..and damn the speed limit! In the south of France, around Montpellier, every second car is hell bent on getting somewhere yesterday! They don’t seem at all bothered by the speed limit, or other drivers. A local person agreed with me that a lot of the drivers here are ‘fou’. Mad.

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