Take the 2-minute tour ×
Travel Stack Exchange is a question and answer site for road warriors and seasoned travelers. It's 100% free, no registration required.

What does it mean when the driver behind you on the Autobahn flashes his headlights?

share|improve this question
3  
#8 here? What was the context? –  Martin Smith Jun 15 at 0:31
3  
Could also mean that something's wrong with your car and they try to notify you. Like you having forgotten to turn on the lights or somethings. –  drat Jun 15 at 5:21
7  
This signal isn't unique to Germany, most people will flash you if they want to get past or if they think you're about to die. The first is a lot more likely than the second... –  Ben Jun 15 at 9:09
4  
Not you question but note that in some countries, when cars coming from the other side flash their headlights, it can mean “Beware there is a police/speed control ahead”. –  Relaxed Jun 15 at 18:12
2  
Please note that a less pushing and less ambiguous signal for "I want to overtake you. Please let me through." is to signal the intention to change the lane to a non-existant more-than-leftmost lane by activating the left turn indicator light. Additionally you don't risk to dazzle anyone with this. For that risk, if you flash your headlights (esp. with too few distance) the police might take it as aggressive driving. –  NoAnswer Jun 16 at 11:03

6 Answers 6

If he/she is coming from behind, it means normally:
You are slow, drive faster or change the lane !

The frequency of the light blinking indicate the urgency, a short one after a while means "Please ?" a whole flurry of it means "GET OUT OF THE F****** LANE, YOU STUPID SNEAKER !!". And no, it is not an exaggeration, Germans can be very offensive behind a steering wheel.

EDIT: In the comments it was suggested to use the left turning indicator. If you drive in Germany on the left lane, you will see that this is nearly invisible from the front car during daytime within the appropiate breaking distance. Short light usage to indicate overtaking is legal and recommended (§5 Part 5 of the StVO, the German street law):

Außerhalb geschlossener Ortschaften darf das Überholen durch kurze Schall- oder Leuchtzeichen angekündigt werden. Wird mit Fernlicht geblinkt, dürfen entgegenkommende Fahrzeugführende nicht geblendet werden. (Outside towns it is allowed to announce the overtaking by short audio or light signals. It is not allowed to dazzle oncoming traffic with the usage of high beam).

If there is no indication that the driver behind you wants to overtake you, it means that something seems to be wrong with your car (headlights or taillights not working/not on). Get out at the next service station and look. If the blinking comes from the opposing traffic, it means that you have you high beam on or you forget to switch on your lights.

Now some corrections, because Paul got it wrong: You have no choice choosing your lane, you should always use the rightmost lane if possible and you can be fined if you do not use it [with the following exception]. Do not wonder why some Germans don't do it either, it is a bad habit of people. Since 2009 a new change in §7 was introduced (3c): it is now allowed to use the middle lane of three lanes continously if sporadically a vehicle turns up.

You must also pass someone always on one of the left lanes. It is also punishable to drive too slowly without reason, 100 km/h should be normal on the right lane (If you are e.g. running low on gas, you could drive 80 km/h and switch on the warning lights).

Because Germany is in Middle of Europe, we have an extremely high amount of truck traffic. So while not intended as such, the right lane has in fact mutated to a lorry/truck lane. So if we have three lanes and the right lane is full with trucks, the middle lane accommodates the normal cars which in fact have a speed of 130-150 km/h, the left lane should be reserved for overtaking (meaning that people use it for high speeding). If only two lanes are open, the left is used for overtaking.

ADDITION: If the driver behind you is coming too near and caught, he will be punished with increased severity. The correct distance is the speed halved in meters (140 km/h = 70 m, the poles on the right side have a distance of 50m between them. From 80-130 km/h and less than half it is 35 €, with more than 130 km/h and less than 1/20 of the speed (140 km/h => less than 7m) it means 400 € and immediate suspension of the driving license for 3 months.

share|improve this answer
5  
If the flashing comes from oposite direction, it might also indicate there is an accident ahead, or an illegal warning for manned speed checks. –  andra Jun 16 at 8:02
3  
or it can be a warning that your headlights are set wrong (on high beam for example, or one of them broken). –  jwenting Jun 16 at 14:50
3  
"You have no choice choosing your lane, you should always use the rightmost lane if possible and you can be fined if you do not use it." - this is factually wrong. There are special rules for roads with 3 or more lanes (StVo §7 3c): "Sind außerhalb geschlossener Ortschaften für eine Richtung drei Fahrstreifen mit Zeichen 340 gekennzeichnet, dürfen Kraftfahrzeuge, abweichend von dem Gebot möglichst weit rechts zu fahren, den mittleren Fahrstreifen dort durchgängig befahren, wo – auch nur hin und wieder – rechts davon ein Fahrzeug hält oder fährt." –  Voo Jun 16 at 21:33
    
cont. actually since there's usually always at least some slow traffic on the rightmost lane, switching between the rightmost and middle all the time is not only exhausting, but also more dangerous for everybody involved. I generally find it a good idea to stay in the middle lane if you have approximately the same speed as others on it, even if you could drive a while on the right. –  Voo Jun 16 at 21:37
    
@Voo You are right, but the change occured 2009, I did not get it at the time. I have adjusted my answer. –  Thorsten S. Jun 16 at 22:04

It is an official signal and has a name: it is called Lichthupe in German.

The German road-traffic regulations Straßenverkehrsordnung (StVO in short) mention this in two paragraphs:

  • StVO § 5 (5) Outside of towns or villages a driver may warn oncoming traffic with the horn or the Lichthupe if he is going to overtake.
  • StVO § 16 (1) A driver may warn others with acoustic or light signals
    • in case of StVO § 5 (5) and
    • in case of danger to warn others

A typical danger could be you see that a driver loses freight. You may not warn other drivers because of a traffic control checkpoint. ADAC notes that the fee will be 10 EUR.

It is not allowed to reduce the safety distance between two cars. Reducing the distance and flashing lights will be interpreted as pushing and leads to severe punishment.

NB: It is allowed outside of towns to flash lights from a safe distance to "ask for permission" to overtake.

share|improve this answer

As @Jonas Stein already mentioned its usually just a reminder that somebody is coming on from behind with a much higher speed then you and wants to overtake. They usually signal from a longer distance. This is for safety reasons so that you know somebody is going to pass although you are already are in the correct lane.

It is to prevent that a driver in the middle lane is going to overtake by going to the left while a car is coming from behind with much higher speed which is pretty dangerous! You don't really see that happen that much in Germany as drivers are used to high speed overtakes but in other countries - like the Netherlands - people just go left without proper mirroring.

You should first let cars pass and then move a lane if you want to overtake. It is very rude and very dangerous to just slam the car to the left as the driver from behind will need to break hard or even insanely hard if he is traveling at 250km/h which is not very uncommon on some highways.

Keep mirroring when you are driving reasonably fast at 180km/h and always move a lane to the right when possible as there is always a faster car.

Although the official rule is to move to the right most lane you usually see that card keep their lane in Germany unless they see a faster car approaching and then move a lane to the right when possible. If its not possible you usually see the car from behing overtake and keep his lane until someone approaching him from behind and them moves to the right very early to not hinder the car from behind.

Also, as people mentioned is that German drivers more often signal when they think something is wrong with your car like signals, lights, tyre pressure as all these can cause dangerous situations due to speed differences.

share|improve this answer
3  
I seriously doubt your interpretation. Most of the time people flash headlights when the driver in front of them is already on the left lane, sometimes the slower car even got there before the faster one was visible. It has nothing to do with safety but only with anger and entitlement. They should really be slowing down instead. Plus if someone does not look in the mirror (Dutch people definitely do, it might be forbidden to drive too fast but their motorways have intense traffic), how are flashing headlights supposed to help? –  Relaxed Jun 16 at 9:45
    
I have indeed seen some people do this on the Autobahn, but probably this is not the most common use. –  Bernhard Jun 17 at 5:52

In many cases it simply means that the guy behind you is crazy thinks he doesn't have to care about speed limits and safety distance. If there are cars on the line right to yours and you are driving faster than these cars, just ignore the guy behind you.

share|improve this answer
    
Nobody said that he wasn't keeping the right distance! @Lombard is very vague in his questions and gives not a lot of details. –  Jay Claiton Jun 16 at 13:04
    
@JayClaiton That's why I wrote "in many cases". Like oefe points out, the meaning depends on the context. –  Apfelsaft Jun 17 at 6:52

It can mean different things, depending on context:

  • If you are both on the leftmost lane, especially if the other car is very close, and/or coming up quickly, they likely want you to change to he right lane so that they can pass
  • If yo are on an entry lane, the car behind you on the lane left of you may flash it's headlights to indicate that you can change lanes
  • It can also mean "check your lights"
  • Last, but not least, it can be used to mean "attention" in a general sense.

As you can see, there are lots of different meanings, and it's not always clear what the other driver meant.

share|improve this answer

It usually means get your slow ass out of the way.

The main Autobahns have three lanes:

  • Outer, for trucks. Nominal speed 100km/h.
  • Middle, for normal driving. Nominal speed 160-180km/h.
  • Inner lane, passing. Nominal speed: faster than you.

If you are driving in the inner lane and someone flashes their headlights at you, it means move over to the middle because they want to get past. If this happens regularly it's a hint to not drive in that lane, or speed up.

share|improve this answer
29  
That's pretty much the way many people see it but it should be nuanced. First, there is a recommended speed of 130 km/h. Many people try to drive faster than that and can be pushy (drängeln) but there should really no expectation that normal driving is 160-180 km/h. It's not always possible to go that fast when there is a lot of traffic and lorries are perfectly allowed to go on the middle lane as well. Finally, the Rechtfahrtgebot applies in any case, all lanes except the right-most one are for passing, staying in the middle when it's free is annoying and forbidden even if you drive 130. –  Relaxed Jun 15 at 10:32
7  
And really, if there is a bus passing a truck at 110-120 and you want to drive 130-140 on the inner lane you should feel no obligation to speed up. Obviously, nobody should get in front of another car driving faster because it's dangerous but driving too fast in those condition and then flashing headlights because you think people should make space for you is obnoxious and irresponsible. –  Relaxed Jun 15 at 10:35
8  
Middle lane is rather 130-160km/h –  bamboon Jun 15 at 10:35
8  
I can only underline Relaxed comment. There is no such thing as a truck lane. –  greg121 Jun 15 at 13:16
12  
Please note: The three lane theory is not based on facts. There is no rule like "nominal speed 160-180 km/h". Trucks are not allowed to drive more than 80 km/h. In fact the nominal speed (called Richtgeschwindigkeit") for german highways without speed limit is 130 km/h. There is no different speed limit per lane as long there is not a traffic sign like here upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/f/f3/…. –  Jonas Stein Jun 15 at 19:35

Your Answer

 
discard

By posting your answer, you agree to the privacy policy and terms of service.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.