Learning to drive in Germany

My son has asked me to teach him to drive.

This is worrying, particularly as he is only six years old. OK – technically he’s sixteen… but it only seems like two minutes ago that he was still driving around the garden in his plastic bobby car.  I mean, how can I possibly face this tiny child (who is now only about eight inches taller than me) being at the wheel of a car, out there, in German traffic?

The good news is that at sixteen he can’t actually take his test yet – he’ll have to wait until his next birthday, which is still 6 months away. Even better… while he’s learning, he can get to practice at the Verkehrsübungsplatz – a cute little network of streets and traffic signs for people to try out their driving skills away from the real scary German roads.

Until he turns seventeen, he can practice driving there… and he can also study for the theory test. This will involve him sitting in a classroom away from the traffic – which is pretty much what he does most days at school too.

I’m keen to find out what they teach him at the theory school. Right now, he is under too many naive pre-conceptions about driving.

For a start, he thinks that drivers use the left hand lane on the Autobahn for overtaking.  Actually, they don’t.  At least only VW and Fiat drivers do this.  Drivers of BMW, Audi, Porsche and anything with an oversized sound system are most likely to whizz round you on the inside, having sat on your bumper and flashed their lights for the obligatory 5 seconds first.

He also thinks that drivers don’t use their mobile phones when driving. I know this for a fact to be wrong. Only the other day, a white van driver ahead of me took a call on his cell phone which clearly was an urgent message saying: “Swerve across three lanes of traffic right NOW” – because that’s exactly what he did. This type of phone call is fairly common, especially on the A57.

Obviously at the Verkehrsübungsplatz, there is a 30kmh speed limit, which cramps the style of any wannabe boy racers. My son is already frustrated, as he thinks he’s Michael Schumacher.

But I like that speed limit. I keep reminding myself that all of these other learner drivers on the course are being taught the German traffic rules by their parents. Parents who are real live German drivers. Some of the kids are even learning in BMWs and Audis. I suspect they may already be up to “advanced” driving, like not indicating and cutting in. I’m expecting them to practice shooting up to the next kid and flashing their lights to overtake at any moment. I swear I overheard one Dad telling his son: “And now we’re going to practice waving the Stinkefinger at other motorists while making this manoeuvre…”

So while I’m cringing at the crunching gears and squealing clutch as we have the fifteenth attempt at a hill start next week… spare a thought for me. And next year, when you’re out on the roads, drive safely for the sake of my son, who will still believe you’re about to indicate as you pull in ahead of him…

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7 Comments

Filed under About Germany, Life in Germany

7 responses to “Learning to drive in Germany

  1. Leigh’s started to learn to drive too, and it terrifies the life out of me that she will be out in French (and God forbid BELGIAN) traffic pretty soon!

    Although I seem to remember that learning to drive in the UK was pretty scary too!

  2. I’m scared to drive in Germany, so I can only imagine a 16 year old teenager learning to drive in Germany, yikes! Good luck!

  3. Laura

    Obviously there are different driving laws down here in the deepest darkest. The outside lane is the waiting lane for the idiots who pull out to overtake a lorry at least 1km away then get upset when they are stuck at 60kph while I stick to the same speed as said lorry and swan past them….

    Then there’s parents teaching kids… it’s nicht erlaubt here. All learners MUST use expensive driving schools, they must be 18 and the instructors teach them useful tips like ‘indicate right at a roundabout even when taking the third exit, indicate left when the road curves to the left even if that is the road direction, hit your brakes as soon as you cut in after overtaking on the motorway’ to name but a few.

    As for indication…. don’t get me started. On a motorway, one indicates to show that you are overtaking, but not to pull back into the appropriate lane, which is what we were taught in the UK, so I’ve never quite understood the reverse logic of the Germans who indicate left AFTER having pulled out but then will indicate right for hundreds of yards before pulling into the righthand lane.

    As for the Stinkefinger…. nobody here dares use it because we all know the police are there to solve personal disputes.

    So not only does the language have different dialects, so do driving habits!

    • The ability to get a driving licence at 17 is Germany wide…

      http://www.fahrtipps.de/verkehrsregeln/fuehrerschein-mit-17.php

      My son will also have to take lessons at a proper (expensive) driving school – practising with your parents is only possible at the off-road facility. But getting the practice there cuts the number of driving lessons you need before you master a 3-point turn (at least that’s my theory).

      Kids who pass their test at 17 have to have a named adult driver with them.

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  5. As frightening as it is, watching your child learn how to drive, your tongue-in-cheek outlook will help you survive this. As for the cell phone….I wish they had a lock on them for when a person is driving. Too tempting for teens–especially texting.

  6. Having just spent a week in the Niederrhein area, I can say that your drivers – and in particular cyclists – are a lot better behaved on the roads than they are in and around Frankfurt!

    Here, a red light means nothing to a cyclist, except that there might be a pedestrian in the way on the crossing.

    Mind you, Cologne seems to be particuarly bad…

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