German Driving vs Texas Driving

I’m going to miss “Right on Red” and Feeder Roads! On my first trip to Germany, we were several hours into a road trip to theNetherlands when I asked Markus when we would get to “The Autobahn”, he looked at me confused and said, we have been on it the whole time. Growing up I always assumed the German Autobahn where you could drive as fast as you want was a special section of highway, not the entire country! Now, having driven with my husband for years in Germany, I know there are tons of things I do prefer about driving here and a few that I DO NOT! In the past, I would have had to pay a small fortune to learn to drive here in Germany, take a test and obtain my license, but now I should be able to take my existing license to their transportation office and get a license to drive here while only paying a small fee. There is a reciprocation agreement with Texas now so it should be easy, but just in case I have been paying attention for years to all the differences.

One thing I know is a difference in mindset is the size of the vehicle! My dad would never have put us in a small two door car, we either needed to be in a full size vehicle or SUV in order to be safe on Texas roads with so many oversized cars and trucks. In Germany the opposite is true, smaller is definitely better. It’s easier to park, they have better mileage, and for most parents, they don’t want to give too much horsepower to a younger driver with little experience.

In the US, especially in Texas, It is common to see not just family minivans that seat 8, but even these bigger transport wagons that will fit upward of 10-12 or even 15! When perusing what is available in Germany, it is uncommon to find a “normal” sized vehicle that would seat our five person family comfortably. Most women in Germany have smaller vehicles for getting around the villages but the men usually drive the family vehicle as a company car. While this is common practice in Germany, my husband and I don’t agree and don’t participate. For us it has always been easier for him to drive the smaller car for commuting and the family vehicle is used for the family daily. Our efforts to find a family car have been a struggle as well. We want something fuel efficient but there are many brands that don’t offer their bigger vehicle electric or hybrid options here. I promise to write a whole blog post about this process because I also find it very interesting!

Another thing I love about Texas is that if you get stuck in traffic, there is a good chance you can bypass it by getting off (you could even see many vehicles driving through the grass beside the highway to get to the feeder faster) and going around on the frontage road. Another option I love is that you can navigate through back roads to make your way just about anywhere you want to go! There is always more than one way to get there and chances are your GPS will show at least three options to choose from and you can pick your favorite based on distance, speed or cost! In Germany, if you get stuck in traffic (also known as a Stau) you could be there for hours because there are not feeder roads or alternate directions offered by your GPS. In some circumstances you can pick your route prior to leaving to avoid traffic, but once you are in a route, you are stuck with what happens along the way.

German motorway (Autobahn)

The U-Turn! Apparently in Texas we make a lot of mistakes while driving, because the existence of the u-turn is not a German thing. If you miss your exit (also know as Ausfahrt) you could be to the next town before you have the option to get off the autobahn, navigate to the other side and back track. I find this to be a truly clever part of the American road system, but you will also not find as many businesses on the side of the autobahn like you do in the US.

Toll roads are a common accepted method to get from Point A to Point B in the US. We just know that if we want to get there faster or avoid traffic, just pay the toll!

Parking is so simple – you only have to pay for it when you are going downtown or to a concert or sporting venue, and even most of that can also be avoided! Parking spaces are spacious and plentiful in the land where everything is bigger! How else would a four door dualie truck be able to park in a normal parking lot? With this in mind, I do not look forward to parking in Germany! This is something that always makes me feel crazy as the spots are small and tight and parallel parking is very common! You pay for parking at the mall or even just to drop someone off on the sidewalk at the airport AND you always have to remember to bring your ticket with you!

Valet parking, even for places like the mall, Americans will pay for just about anything to avoid the long treacherous walk from the back of the parking lot! That’s not something you will find in Germany! With parking spaces being very limited and small, Germans will squeeze their cars into just about any free spot. In fact, most Germans will walk a mile to avoid the hassle of trying to find a parking spot at all!

Pay at the pump does not exist for the most part in Germany. Do they have any idea how hard this is going to make my life?!? How can I be expected to get three kids out of their car seats to go in and pay for gas? I have a feeling I will have an entirely separate post dedicated to my hate of this and other things like this. As for now, my husband will be responsible for filling up the gas tank when he is with us or has the car.

Also in line with not having to physically leave the vicinity of the car, is that in Texas, we have drive through service for just about anything you can think of! I could leave my home in my pajamas to drop my daughter off for school, then I could go to Starbucks, the bank, the pharmacy, pick up or drop off at the dry cleaners and get something for the younger kids at the donut shop all via a drive thru. Then I could go to the local grocery store, Walmart or Target and pick up via curbside service. Later in the evening I could place an order for food at any other many restaurants in the area, drive to the “princess parking”/now curbside to go spots and have food placed in my trunk. I could do an entire day of errands and never leave the car! And an added Corona-Era option and necessity is contactless service, most of the time I don’t even have to speak to anyone, I just check in on my phone. Now I understand things have changed a little in Germany with Corona, but for the most part you still have to park, get out and walk inside to accomplish almost everything. For almost everything you will also need a negative Covid test within a few days to enter.

One thing I love about drivers in Germany is that they adhere to the rule that passing should only be done to the left and the far left lane is used when passing multiple cars at a time and driving at a higher rate of speed. Unless you are actively passing you should get in the far right lane. The further left you go the faster you should be traveling and bigger trucks are generally not allowed in the far left. It is also common to see the entire right lane full with trucks driving one after another because they aren’t allowed to pass when there are hills either.

The general rule in a four way stop in Texas is that the person to the right has the right of way if both drivers arrive at the same time. This is also true in Germany, but they add that the person to the right also has the right of way in a 30 km per hour speed zone. So if you are traveling down a smaller street with this speed limit and someone pulls up to the street in front of you, from the right on another street, they have the right of way to pull out and you should slow down and allow them to pull out. It is also the rule that on a narrow road where many cars are parked along the side, it is the right of way of the side without cars parked and the car traveling along the side with the parked cars should find space to pull over to allow the other car to pass. The right of way always goes to the car without the parked cars on their side of the road. In the case both have cars parked, it’s considered a gentleman’s agreement and the first one who has the option to pull to the side and allow the other to pass should do so. I am actually not sure of the rules for this in the US, it has always kind of been a first come first served situation. Plus streets are very seldom only large enough for one car to pass at a time.

These are just some of the things I have found and noticed and I haven’t even started driving here yet! As for me now, its going to be hard to stop at a light and wait for the right turn arrow to allow me to make my right turn. I have now been enjoying the liberty of that move for more than 25 years. Next time you do make your right on red, say a little prayer for me and my patience!

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