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As every American teenager "knows" there is no speed limit on the Autobahn. My understanding, however, is that there is still such a thing as excessive speed even on this free-for-all.

So, ignoring the practical "don't be an idiot" and "don't drive faster than you can handle," at what speeds would die Polizei be pulling you over?

Bonus points for translating km/hr into miles/hr.

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Note that if you don't have much experience in "not driving faster than you can handle", you're very likely to overestimate yourself. Just remember that if you drive at 120mph and somebody else drives at 60mph, the speed differential is 60mph - it's as if you drive at US highway speeds toward a wall. – Jonas Feb 25 '13 at 1:42
From 10 years ago. I only remember being passed on E54 leading from Munich by 3 cars that had to flash me being away from me by about a mile and a half and the only thing I was able to do is move right while doing 160kmh = 100mph before they flew by me. – Karlson Feb 25 '13 at 2:44
The recommended speed on german "Autobahn"s are 130km/h (~81mph) – Fabian Blechschmidt Feb 25 '13 at 9:07
Just to clarify, the scare quote around "knows" is because I was pretty sure that the conventional wisdom wasn't entirely accurate. Thanks everybody for clarifying! – Affable Geek Feb 26 '13 at 23:23
Another general warning: If the vast majority of countries outlaws something, they usually have a good reason for it – driving above a certain speed is disproportionately dangerous for others and you. German speed limits (and fines) are only that absurdly liberal for about the same reason as US gun laws: A relevant portion of the population has been quasi-religiously indoctrinated that regulating this will be the end to freedom. – Wrzlprmft Jan 27 '14 at 22:48
up vote 22 down vote accepted

The statement 'there is no speed limit on the Autobahn' is not really correct. I couldn't find any official statistics, but I've seen a number of only 50% of German Autobahns without any limit.

Many parts have a permanent limits of 120 or 130 km/h (74 mph or 81 mph). Some parts are limited to 80 (50 mph) due to construction work.

Also, some limits are only for wet roads. Finally many parts have dynamic speed limit signs that change based on the traffic situation.

Even though there is no general limit for the 50%, there is a recommended speed of 130 km/h (81 mph). If you are going much faster and there is an accident, it is more likely you are blamed for it (if you survive it, which is unlikely).

Autobahn police can still pull you over for reckless driving or driving too fast in certain situations even when there was no limit.

How fast may you drive on the Autobahn?

This really depends on the situation, there are some stretches in less populated areas that get relatively light traffic and you can drive 200 km/h (125 mph) with no problem. It also depends on the time of day. There is rush hour traffic that limits your speed anyways. Late at night it is usually empty and you can go fast.

It also depends on you car, it makes a big difference if you go 200 km/h in a big BMW or Porsche or a smaller older car. It is also much more tiring to go fast, you have to concentrate much more at 200 than 120 because any tiny mistake has much bigger consequences.

I had several friends visiting from overseas, renting a car and then were too scared to drive really fast. If you are planning to go fast, start with a speed you are comfortable with from home and then increase it over time. Don't go 230 km/h (143 mph) as soon as you hit the Autobahn for the first time.

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I have happily driven a large section of the autobahn at over 250km/h and still had people flying past me. It astonishes me that those people can adjust back down accurately again when they reach small roads, as there is a necessary adjustment to lower speed roads, and your brain doesn't naturally do it. – Rory Alsop Feb 25 '13 at 9:18
I do a fair amount of race training in various track scenarios, and I still take the time to convert my brain back to road driving before heading home from the track. (Even cheap cars can be fast, though - mine is a very cheap car, under £20k and it does over 300kph - so it is definitely accessible to younger drivers) – Rory Alsop Feb 25 '13 at 9:52
How well is the autobahn typically illuminated; my immediate reaction to the thought of driving at 200km/h is that your minimum breaking distance is far longer than what your headlights can illuminate. On lightly trafficked highways in the US I'm reluctant to even drive that fast at night because on most stretches the design assumption seems to be that there'll be enough traffic that other drivers will keep the area beyond your headlights illuminated. – Dan Neely Feb 25 '13 at 15:10
@DanNeely - Outside of urban areas, there are no lights on the Autobahn. Your own headlights may not reach far enough but you can still see the rear-lights of the vehicles in front. – Peter Hahndorf Feb 25 '13 at 15:21
Fortunately, the speeding tickets are really cheap in Germany :) – RoflcoptrException Feb 27 '13 at 16:25

Note that there ARE actually some speed limits:

A hard limit is imposed on some vehicles:

  • 60 km/h (37 mph)

    • Buses carrying standing passengers
    • Motorcycles pulling trailers
  • 80 km/h (50 mph)

    • Vehicles with maximum allowed weight exceeding 3.5 t (except passenger cars)
    • Passenger cars and trucks with trailers
    • Buses
  • 100 km/h (62 mph)

    • Passenger cars pulling trailers certified for 100 km/h
    • Buses certified for 100 km/h not pulling trailers

There are also speed restrictions around construction zones, for example.

Funnily enough, the police are there to pull you over for a variety of enforcement reasons - but in terms of speed - only for driving too slowly, stopping unnecessarily or driving in the wrong lane (there's a fast/slow lane).

More information on being penalised for speeds and it's worth noting that while there's theoretically often no upper limit, " the law forbids to travel at speeds that would prolong the vehicle's minimum halting distance beyond the driver's line of sight".

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Some autobahns have limits on some sections - not just construction zones - and some have variable limits (that come into force during rush hour or bad weather, for example) – Rory Alsop Feb 25 '13 at 8:11
And during time of day, yeah. I didn't want to include every single detail, figured the link to wikipedia at the top would suffice. – Mark Mayo Feb 25 '13 at 8:19
Ah, my bad-am on a train in poor connectivity so didn't follow that link. – Rory Alsop Feb 25 '13 at 8:24
fyi: There is a advisory speed limit of 130 km/h (80mph). – greg121 Feb 25 '13 at 8:53

Some information added to the answer of Peter:

  • Yes, if there are no signs or this sign, there is no speed limit. There are some videos on Youtube about driving superbikes in excess of 300 km/h (186 mph).

  • You will normally not be able to drive such speeds as the traffic density in Germany is very high. On the right side you will often see seemingly endless columns of trucks (with the exception of Sundays and public holidays). The middle line is then used by normal cars, but if the right side is clear, there is an obligation to use this lane. Do not be surprised that many cars ignore this, it is a pretty bad habit in Germany. If you do not follow this (20 seconds being on the wrong lane), the police can fine you with 80€.

  • The autobahn are accessed by acceleration lanes. You will accelerate your car to get a comparable speed (with is something about 100 km/h (60 mph). Normally they are long enough to filter in (it is a polite habit giving way by changing the lane to the left if you see cars are approaching on the acceleration lane) but if you run out, DO NOT STOP AT THE ACCELERATION LANE !!! a) You have no room to speed up in time and b) cars will not expecting you. The right way is to use the emergency lane to get into a gap as fast as possible. Unfortunately sometimes they are shortening the lanes for road works so it can get pretty this case exercise caution and try to get into the gap with as a small speed loss as possible.

  • While still a bad habit, overtaking right is forbidden and costs you 100 €.

  • Please use your indicator early enough if you are changing direction. Driving at high speeds give other people much less reaction time to anticipate your maneuvers.

  • Accidents and crashes. In contrast to e.g. the USA, it is strictly forbidden by law to punish helpers for wrong first aid, even if you medical personnel in private. Moreover, people have the obligation to help by law if they are able to (max. 1 year prison for not helping). So if you see an obvious emergency, drive behind the crashed car as far on the right side as possible, inform the police/ambulance (112), put out your warning triangle and then try to help. DO NOT TRY TO HIT AND RUN if you are responsible for an accident. This will automatically cancel your driving license and is severely punished with up to 3 years in prison.

  • Offense. The same laws apply to both Germans and foreigners. Fines must be paid, but the most interesting part is when you will lose your driving license.

    • Driving more than 40 km/h faster than allowed
    • Hit and run
    • Driving intoxicated
    • Attacking or endangering other people
    • Tailgating with less than 0,15*speed in meters (less than 15 meters for 100 km/h)
    • Trying to turn or driving backward
  • Drinking. On all roads including autobahns 0.3 per mille will cause you automatically trouble if a crash happens, 0.5 per mille is forbidden.

  • Still bad habits: Be not be surprised if some people are reacting overly angry. That means a) driving nearly against you, tailgating and blinking lights if you are too slow on the left lane. This includes insults and showing you the finger. Simply ignore it.

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protected by Mark Mayo Feb 26 '13 at 1:04

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