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German Bicycle Laws

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Bicycles traffic laws in Germany are worth knowing. Generally, the laws of Germany are quite similar to those you are used to in the US. E.g., do not kill anyone, ride on the right side of the road, and obey all traffic laws as if you were driving a car.

In Europe, everybody rides or has ridden bikes and drivers are tolerant of the challenges all bike riders have. Here are a few guidelines. This page contains is my best attempt to provide accurate information about bicycle laws in Germany.

In 2011, there is a move afoot to create a law that would find the cyclist responsible if that cyclists causes an accident by not obeying traffic laws.

The following is extracted using Google Translations from the actual bicycle laws of Germany. I am not a fluent speaker of German so there may be a mistranslation or simply misinformation. Therefore, Tim and Maxa Burleigh and BicycleGermany LLC have to disclaim the accuracy of the information on this page.

The translation is in conversational style not legalese. It is a little easer to read and understand. Any humor below is mine and certainly not a part of German laws. Ever know a funny lawyer? If I deviate from translating the law, I will try to use [brackets like these.]

First of all regardless of whether you are riding a bicycle or driving, you must obey all traffic laws when you are on a street or road. [That probably is no surprise to any adult but might not be understood by kids.]

Basic understanding: One of the guiding principles of traffic behavior is the Trust Principle; That is to say that drivers (of cars, bicycles, and other motorized vehicles) trust the behavior of other drivers and cyclists. The only exception to this basic rule is that bikes ridden by impaired people or motorized wheelchairs, etc. driven by impaired people.

Two or more abreast riding: Riding side by side is forbidden on streets and roads. You must ride single file; even in bicycle lanes marked out on the streets. [The good news is that on a cycle path that is not part of a road (such as one separated from a road by a concrete barrier or completely independent from a road or a sidewalk) one can ride side by side.]

All cycle paths are at least separated from a road by a concrete retaining wall (Jersey barrier), a grass strip. A cycle path separated by a painted line is part of a road and is not a separate cycle path that allows side by side riding. Cycle paths also include those delineated on sidewalks where a curb separates the sidewalk path from the road or street.

Tractor with mower on bike pathSome field cycle paths through farming country (Feldwege), one occasionally sees a car but more often you see tractors and farm equipment. The tractors have the right of way and they typically take up the whole path. Cyclists should stop and get off the path.

Arm signals: You must give a hand signal for all turns. [In America, one signals a left turn by bending the right arm at the elbow and raising the forearm as if to point over your head. That does not work in Germany. They point left with their left arm and point right with their right arm. The signal for stopping is one arm extended and the forearm pointing down (this at least is just like in America). [For the stop signal, it is best to use the arm most likely to be seen by the traffic you want to know that you intend to stop.]

Yield to traffic on the right: Unless you are on a major through street with the yellow diamond, (see signs below) marking the way, you must yield to vehicles and cycles from the right. This is especially true on residential streets where arterials streets are rare.

In Europe there is no right turn on red; you have to wait for the green light (unlike in the USA it is legal to turn right on a red light if you stop first).

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Stop signStop: A stop sign means stop; even if you are from California. [Enough said.]

Emergency vehicles have the right of way: [An ambulance with lights and horns is not there to pick you up after they have driven over you. They probably have a first to call, first to serve policy. They will keep going leaving you to pick yourself up.]

Pedestrians always have the right of way: Normally, they cannot hear you coming unless you verbally announce yourself or ring your bell. Pedestrians in crosswalks (Zebrasteifen) always have the right of way even if they can see you. An intersection with only one painted crosswalk means that you may have to use that crosswalk. You may not cross wherever you want to. Also, if you walk your bicycle across, cars are required to stop for you and most cars do so. If you ride your bicycle across, you are no longer a pedestrian and laws relating to pedestrians no longer relate to you. If you cause an accident while riding a bicycle, you can be held responsible.

Making turns: If you are riding with traffic, turn out of the proper traffic turn lane. Again, you must obey automobile laws.

Autobahn: Bicycles are never allowed on the Autobahn. [Do not even think you can ride your bicycle on the Autobahn.]

Bicycles are legal traffic: They must be on the street with traffic riding in the direction of traffic. However, children up to age 8 must be on the sidewalk, not in traffic. Children up to age 10 may ride on the sidewalk.

If there is a cycle path, you must use it and not ride on the street or road with traffic. There may be an exception for racing bicycles. [In traffic, keep a safe distance from parked cars that may open their doors in your way at the second you approach. You cannot share time and space with a car door. Injury will result. The door will probably survive, but we cannot say the same for you.]

You also need to keep a safe distance from the vehicle (auto or bicycle) ahead of you. [That goes along with what you learned in kindergarten – do not hit anybody.]

Share the pathShare the path signThe above said, there are many times when the cycle path is on the sidewalk. You will see a round blue sign telling you that you should share the sidewalk with pedestrians. The sign on the left means there is a separate part of the path for cycles and another for pedestrians. The sign on the right means you share equally. Remember pedestrians always have the right of way.

If you are on the sidewalk you have to cross intersections with a walk signal. Get off and walk your bicycle across. [This is true even if there is no traffic but most cyclists ignore this often unenforced rule.] By the way, children up to age 10 must walk their bicycle across the street and only at crosswalks.

Obey all traffic laws, especially speed limits: That said, there are special speed limits for bicycles even if the automobile speed limit is greater (however unlikely). The special speed limits are: Never exceed 50 Km/h in built up areas like cities and towns; and never ever exceed 100 Km/h [anytime anywhere. A little known law that I have not seen enforced is that when in an intersection, the bicycle speed limit is 10 Km/h. It does make some sense to slow down so if a car turns in front of you, you can stop. Remember, you are hard to see, especially in some lighting conditions, in fog, or during rain.]

Alcohol consumption: Do not drink and drive. Do not drink and cycle either. If your blood alcohol exceeds the limits below you can be fined and you can lose your driver's license. [Arrest and penalties happen to residents, aliens or citizens. I do not know what they would do if you were a short term visitor and your driver's license is from your home country.]

The following penalty apply to violation of the alcohol limits: Criminal records in violation September 1, 2009 Criminal Fine Amount in Euros From 0.8 per thousand (0.4 mg/l Breathing air or 0.0084 ) €800-€3,700; From 0.12 Percent (0.6 mg/l Breathing air) €1,200-€4,400; From 1.6 per thousand (0.8 mg/l Breathing air) €1,600-€5,900; Denial of alcohol breath testing €1,600-€5,900. [The legal limit is measured differently in Europe than in the USA. In the USA the limit is .08 Blood Alcohol Level but in Germany it is about .05 Blood Alcohol Level. Less if your behavior is impaired. Maxa says my behavior is usually impaired but that has nothing to do with drinking.]

More information about fines, and other traffic violation information for inquiring minds can be found at http://www.howtogermany.com/pages/traffic-violations.html and http://www.howtogermany.com/pages/traffic-violations.html.

Traffic Violation Fines: As of 1 April 2013, if cyclists violate provisions of the Road Traffic Act (Straßenverkehrsordnung "StVO"), it now is more expensive than previously. Fines may be as follows: failure to use the bike path - €20; riding without light - €20; riding on the sidewalk - €10; not using the right lane - €15; riding the wrong way on a one-way street - €20; riding in a pedestrian zone: €15.

About drug use: If you drive [or cycle] impaired by drugs, you will face a fine between €800 and €3,700. Also Note: Police can arrest you if you pedal erratically and/or your blood alcohol limits exceed .05%.

Use of cell phones: It is verboten to use a cell phone while riding a bicycle except when using a hands free capability. Hefty fines are assessed when arrested.

Equipment on Bicycles sold as new, each bicycle must provide the following equipment:
  1. Brakes: Two independently acting braking devices.
  2. Bell / horn: For dispensing acoustic warning.
  3. Lighting: Non-blinking front headlamp to illuminate the road of white or pale yellow color. A red rear taillight that stays lit when stationary.
  4. Reflectors: front with a white with a red rear reflectors that may be connected to the lights and/or connected to the pedals. At least two yellow reflectors on each wheel.
  5. In daylight and good visibility bicycles may be used without lights.
  6. Racing bike exceptions: Racing bikes are not required to meet the above rules. However, if riding at night, all bikes, including racing bikes are required to have lights and reflectors.
  7. A Racing bike is defined as less that 12 kg, with drop handlebars, a rim diameter at least 630 mm diameter, and a rim width not more than 23 mm. Mountain bikes are not road bikes so are exempted from certain requirements (unless ridden at night on the roads). [NOTE: I do not know if they are exempt from the equipment list if they are ridden on the roads during the daytime.]

A side note it that electrical bicycles (E-bikes) are limited to 400 watts.

Said in other words from another section of the law, bicycles (except racing bikes) must have the following at a minimum:
  1. Brakes: Two independently acting braking devices (mean deceleration on dry pavement m/sec2 4 at an initial speed of 20 km / h).
  2. Bell / horn: For dispensing acoustic warning.
  3. Lighting: Non-blinking front headlamp to illuminate the road of white or pale yellow color. A red rear taillight that stays lit when stationary and may blink (intensity 1 cd).
  4. Reflectors: front with a white with a red rear reflectors that may be connected to the lights and/or connected to the pedals. At least two yellow reflectors on each wheel. Alternatively reflectors may be part of the lighting system (light entry surface 20 cm2). Wheel reflective sidewalls can be alternatives to reflectors attached to the wheels. • In daylight and good visibility bicycles may be used without lights. The law says that lights must be firmly attached to the bicycle but experts say that battery powered detachable lights are permitted (light intensity 100 cd). [Whatever cd means.] The law requires headlights to be "light sensitive surface at least 20 cm2.
  5. Helmets: As of May, 2011 helmets are required by law for children under 13 years old. For older people, helmets are recommended but not required. The law provides the characteristics of a good bicycle helmet as: Hard outer shell made of reflective material Air vents, which are connected by wide, and air ducts Bars on the air vents to protect against insects [ever have a bee in your bonnet?] Closure straps which are fixed on the helmet and easy to open and close. Helmets should have the mark inside the shell that they conform to the ÖNORM EN 1078. Adults: Helmets improve visibility, if you don’t have other equipment, a helmet may be required. Children: Helmets are not mandatory but strongly recommended.

Pedestrian Zones: Bicycles can be used on both pedestrian zones if the zone is signed "Fahrrad Frei" or with a graphic of a bike and the word "Frei." Note that in pedestrian zones, the pedestrians have the right of way always. [There may be a special speed limit so ride slowly.] One-way Streets: Normally, bikes cannot be ridden against the flow of traffic on one-way streets. That said, look for signs that indicate an exception for bicycles. For example a graphic image of a bicycle and the word "Frei." [See signs below.]

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One Hand or No Hands Riding: Forbidden. Maintain full control of your bicycle at all times in traffic. [However, you will see kids and some adults doing this.]

Hazardous Loading: Carrying items on your bicycle that may cause an issue in traffic is forbidden. Such items include open umbrellas, saws, scythes, or other items that might cause damage or impaired maneuverability.

Parking of Bicycles: Bikes must be parked so they don’t fall over and impede traffic or damage property.

Bikes on Public Transportation: Bikes on public transport may be limited during rush hours. Baby buggies have the right of way. If necessary, bicycles can be required to leave the public conveyance. [See trains for specifics regarding bicycles in trains.]

Bicycle trailers: The load may in the transport of loads or persons shall not exceed: 250 kg, 100 kg in continuous inertia, and un-braked 60 kg. Trailers for bikes must be less that 80 cm wide. [Trailers are a pain in the neck to load on trains, busses, and streetcars.]

Other laws and suggestions: Many European streets are too narrow for cars to meet side by side and have a car parked in the street. What happens is that cars swerve out over the centerline to drive around parked cars. However, if a car is coming from the other direction and the parked car is in your lane, you must yield to the oncoming car. In other words, you must wait behind the parked car until the oncoming car (or cars) has passed before passing swerving out across the centerline to pass the parked car. This can get interesting when cars are parked on both sides of the road and cars must alternatively swerve in and out and wait and hurry. The locals have it down but it seems like pandemonium to me.

Blind corners: When you are about to turn a blind corner, ring your bell to warn other possible riders or pedestrians coming toward you around the corner that you are there.

What follows is excerpted with permission from http://pbisotopes.ess.sunysb.edu/bicycle-muenster/bicycling-muenster-2.htm by Gilbert Hanson. Some of the photos are attributed to "Program fahrradfreundliche Stadt Muenster."

In the first picture to the left, the bike lane is part of the sidewalk. Bikes must travel in the same direction as traffic. That is, you must travel on the right side of the road. The red area is for bikes the gray area to the right of that is for pedestrians. Note the sign.

Occasionally, when there is no bike path on the correct side of the street, you will be directed to ride on sidewalk level but on the opposite side of the street where there is a bike path.

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The second picture to the right shows an intersection where the light is red and cars must stop behind the lower white line. Bicycles can wait between the two dotted white lines. Bicycles enter this area from the red bike path on the right. Note the arrows on bike path and the entrance into the bike waiting zone.

Frequently bike paths are indicated by a color change from that where pedestrian have right-of-way.

Note third photo on left shows a bicycle path made from red stone but the pedestrian walkway is from gray stone.

At the intersection in the lower left, the cars on a red light wait behind the first (lowest) white line. Bicycles have a separate left turn lane in the center. Note how the bicyclers enter the left turn lane at a red light for the cars. These pictures may look confusing but they are logical when you are actually on the path. If there is no bike path or bike lane, think of yourself as if you are in a car and enter normal traffic, turning left or right as the cars do. Obey the same rules that cars do. Take an active, aggressive position in traffic (e.g., ride where the cars put their left wheels) and do not dawdle.

But when there are bike paths, follow the arrows and the signals put there for bikes. By the way, Germany has millions of bicycle commuters. Most of them would prefer you did not dawdle in the bike paths either.

If you are riding in a train buy a ticket. That seems simple but once in Germany, it may appear that no one checks tickets. It is possible that is the case on streetcars but on trains the conductor (Schaffner/Schaffnerin), normally will check tickets. They even check the tickets you buy for your bicycle. There are signs posted on many conveyances warning you that if you do not have a valid ticket you have to pay the higher of €40 or double the price of a ticket.

Now, let us review some of the more common street signs you will encounter. Just click any photograph to enlarge it. Then click your back arrow to return to this text.Main Street has right of way

The sign to the right is Arterial or Diamond Sign. You have right of way from cars approaching from side streets if you are on this street. (Click to enlarge.) The sign on the left is also an indication that you are on a major street and the side roads merging with your street must yield right of way. If you are on a side road, you will only see a triangular yield sign.

The sign to the left designates a pedestrian way but bicycles are allowed too. You should share the sidewalk with pedestrians and, if they do not see you, let them know with a short ring of your bell that you are approaching.

On the right and pedestrians on the left share the sidewalk with no separation between bikes and pedestrians.

This is the end of the bike lane. Use the street.

Do not enter. The street is probably one-way coming toward you. Sometimes, you will see an additional sign similar to the one below the round pedestrian sign above. It indicates that bicycle riders can ignore the Do Not Enter sign but nevertheless, be alert that all lanes of traffic are coming towards you.

The sign on the left is the start of a pedestrian only zone. Unless you see a bicycle "Frei" sign below it, you should get down and push your bicycle.

And with a red stripe through it like the one to the right means that the way ahead is not a pedestrian only zone.

Speaking of getting down from your bicycle, when farm equipment approaches, you are wise to dismount until it passes.Radfahrer Abstiegen

This photograph is advisory and not a law. However, it appears in places where there have been several bicycle accidents and therefore it is worth while to pay attention to it.

* An asterisk after a link indicates that that link will open in a new window. That way, you will maintain your place in the Bicycle Germany website.

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