First time driver !?!

Mar 15th, 2005, 05:53 PM
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Join Date: Mar 2005
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First time driver !?!

We are headed to Europe for three weeks starting from the last week in April. Our plan is to spend half of trip driving by hitting the road in a rented car. The rough itinerary is to drive from Munich to Innsbruck (St. Anton) to Lucerne through the Black Forest an back to Munich. I do not plan to drive in big cities but have driven in many major North American cities. So, the question is -
1) what are the best maps to use (i prefer a paper maps)
2) what's a good resource to learn about the rules of road ie. can you do a right on a red, and proper etiquette.
3) is there anything I should be cautious about when getting the car (i can drive manual and have rented one)
4) any other advice for a novice?

Thanks in advance.
windowlicker is offline  
Mar 15th, 2005, 06:20 PM
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No - you cannot turn right on red,

The major differences:

speed limits are much higher and people drive much faster (the limit is over 80 on highways)

driving is taken very seriously - drivers are generally more competent (IMHO) than in the US - but less forgiving of those who drive badly

on the highway DO NOT drive in the left lane. This is a major faux pas - its is FOR PASSING ONLY. If you disobey this rule you will have (much) faster cars running up behind you flashing and honking until you move back to the right. (We have been passed by Porsche's doing 150 and exotics doing probably up to 200.)

Any competent and confident driver should be fine. We love it - since the highways are denuded of the idiot cell phone talkers, soccor mom screamers and dashboard diners that clog the roads here - and make driving such hell.
nytraveler is offline  
Mar 15th, 2005, 06:31 PM
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Pass, and pass QUICKLY, not at 3 mph faster than the car being passed.
tomboy is offline  
Mar 16th, 2005, 05:39 AM
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Hi, I am from Germany so here so advise for you:
The way you want to drive is just a peace of cake. don't worry. Coming to your questions:
1) best road maps are available in good bookstores, maybe at the airport or at every filling station. Best printed road maps are from SHELL or ARAL(both filling station Brands) or from FALK. You can get them in all scales you need. Pls make sure that you will buy one from the countries you need - Germany, Austria, Switzerland. Last week I brought the big European SHELL road map for EUR 15 at a filling station and it includes a citymaps, which is quite helpful.

2) no speed limits on the highway except when you hv seep signes.

no take overs on the right!!!! dangerous ('cause no one is allowed to) and expensive.

left lane is only for overtaking, the rule is: when right lane is free, drive there, to many trucks on the right lane (max seed for trucks is arround 80 km/h, but they usually drive more then 85)) then drive on the middle lane...

we hv lots of control cars on the street, most of them are private cars, so do not horn, flash, or lower the distance to the car in front of you too much - BUT fines are not so expensive in Germany. in any cases: Safty first!

Don't play with the cops. Most fines are very high and you hv to pay directly with EC-Card (which you will not hv or cash. If you don't want to drive arround with lots of cash: Stick to the rules, specially SPEED!

Same as in Austria


automatic gears are not so popular like in the states. You should ask your rental company if they hv automatic. when possible ask for a DIESEL car, as the fuel prices are much higher then in the US. here you pay more then USD 1,50 for 1 liter (close to 3/4 of a US gallon!). Diesel is cheaper and the consumtion of the car is less then regular fuel cars.

most cities and town hv no free parking in the city centre, hv a look for valid parking or big parking lots next to train stations (called: Park and ride or "PR".

truns on red
not allowed but some traffic lights hv eighter a GREEN RIGHT TRUN ARROW light or just a GREEN RIGHT TURN SIGN (samll), then you can drive carefully.

limited to 0,5 per mill - so better stay away from dink and driving

in Germany they are polite, even if they pull you over they are. Do not exit the car, wait untill the cop is coming over. Lots of them speak english, but not all - play stupid, lost tourist and find out if it works.

Germany: not allowed
Austria: "for gods sake"
Switzerland: mariuana is allowed to smoke in resticted areas, but do not bring anything over to germany. cops and customs are allowed to "clean your car" right next to the street.

Don't know what more to add...

Best regards form Hamburg, Germany
Mirk is offline  
Mar 16th, 2005, 05:54 AM
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ira is offline  
Mar 16th, 2005, 06:05 AM
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I totally agree with Mirk, perfect explanation.
Pass quickly on the Autobahn, if you disappear in my rear mirror and stay in the "dead angle" for too long (>3 sek) youre a serious traffic hazard. Youll get others mad.

Dont do Drugs in Bavaria as well as Austria. Fortunately in Munich police are everywhere. If you look like youd carry mariuana, youll be searched in no time. Its so funny to have all the passers by staring at you, while you take off your shoes and they put on their rubber gloves. And youll stay in prison for at least that night.
I dont know what happens next, Im just among the spectators
logos999 is offline  
Mar 16th, 2005, 06:29 AM
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Here are a couple of links that may help.

Gute Fahrt - eurotravler
eurotravler is offline  
Mar 16th, 2005, 08:48 AM
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I live in Switzerland and would second what Mirk says. I must live in a different Europe than NYtraveler has been to, however, as I find the drivers the same and in many case less competent than in the US, esp in traffic. Also, lots of people are on their cell phones, even if it is illegal (only recently made illegal in Switzerland)

In Europe a yellow-striped pedestrian cross-walk means STOP FOR PEDESTRIANS. It means this in most US states too, but most people don’t stop. Here they do. There is a cross-walk approximately every 20 feet in Switzerland (only a slight exaggeration. . . .)

There are a lot of roundabouts. People IN the roundabout have the right of way. (Note the triangles painted in the road before each entrance to the roundabout, this means yield.)

One major difference in driving here is that unless otherwise indicated by triangles painted on the road, at an intersection drivers coming from your RIGHT have priority. That means at a "T" intersection where there is an intersecting road on your right, a car approaching the intersection on your right has the right of way, even if you are driving on the main road and he is coming off a side road!

Learn the European picture signs for “one way” (blue sign with white arrow), “do not enter” (red circle with a white interior), “pedestrian only - no cars allowed” (blue or red circle with red X; although sometimes you can enter at certain hours.)

Being able to read a little German would help, esp with parking, where rules can be arcane. “Verboten” means forbidden, so forget parking there. A small travel dictionary in the car would help. Signs in Switzerland are written in high German, not Swiss German, so a German dictionary is fine.

Bring plenty of money. Gas is US$4.50 a gallon, more expensive outside major towns and in tourist places. You need a highway vignette/window sticker to drive on highways, these usually come with the rental car, but make sure. Parking fines in Switzerland start at about US$35 and go up, my highest so far is US$250 (long story, but basically don’t park for more than 12 hours in a 2 hour zone). The city of Zurich made US$65 MILLION dollars in parking and speeding fines in 2004; this is about a quarter of total tax revenues for the city. Speeding tickets are very expensive and there are speed cameras all over the highways. If you see a bright red flash, you have been caught, and the ticket will be in the mail to the rental company. You won’t even talk to a cop.

Cicerone is offline  
Mar 16th, 2005, 11:22 AM
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Perhaps my area just has worse drivers - but on every trip to europe I have fond drivers to be much better - a few cell phones - but not 50% of the drivers wandering all over the road - no oldsters/confused insisting on doing 45 mph in the left lane and none of the dreaded mini van moms who seem to have trouble driving even in three lanes - nevermind two. Also, many fewer SUVs driving 3 feet behind your bumper ("because the 4-wheel drive makes them handle so well").
nytraveler is offline  
Mar 22nd, 2005, 05:22 PM
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Thanks for all of the responses. The websites were very useful and gave me an idea of what to expect.
windowlicker is offline  
Mar 22nd, 2005, 05:48 PM
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I like the Michelin printed maps, and their website is much like mapquest for maps online and for driving directions and distances.
ekellyga is offline  
Apr 23rd, 2005, 01:57 PM
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I just have one more thing to add. The priority roads in Germany are marked by white triangle signs with a yellow triangle in the middle. These are not normally painted on the road in Germany but are posted signs. These are important because as stated previously by another poster, a car coming from a side may have the right of way. It also helps when getting directions and you're told to stay on the priority road. Here's a link with the roadsigns and their meanings. These are part of what I had to study to get my license here Germany.
michmoore is offline  
Apr 23rd, 2005, 04:20 PM
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Don't flash your lights and honk your horn at slow cars ahead of you in Germany. To help reduce the high highway accident and death rates, these are now classified as aggressive driving and subject to fines.
RufusTFirefly is offline  
Apr 23rd, 2005, 04:31 PM
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Also running out of fuel on Autobahn is an offence, punished with a fine.
Alec is online now  
Apr 23rd, 2005, 04:49 PM
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For maps, my favorite is Freytag & Berndt for good detail. Do purchase good road maps before you go to have on hand. Everyone has given great advice on driving etiquette, I can't stress any right, pass left and do so quickly. Be particularly careful on stretches of unlimited speed autobahn when moving into the left lane to pass, one second its clear and the next an extremely fast moving vehicle will just appear out of no where.

Another item I didn't see anyone cover is the toll sticker (die vignette) for Austrian and Swiss autobahns. These are a one time purchase and good for all autobahns for a certain length of time, its a good system, it avoids stopping at toll booths constantly, as in Italy....which is a pain. For Austria they can be purchased for different lengths of time, Switzerland its a sticker for your windshield that is good for a year. These can be purchased at border crossings, gas stations, etc. They can even be purchased in Germany prior to arrival in adjoining countries, look for signs on the autobahn for those that sell them. For the Swiss autobahn sticker, check your rental car to see if it already has it, make sure its valid for the current year. Pay attention to lane signals at border crossings, there are lanes for cars who already have it and these will be the longer lanes but move quickly and separate lanes for cars who need to purchase.

Driving is easy and pleasant, you'll have no problems. Drivers are more skilled and attentive than here in the US.

Have a great trip.
Traveler863 is offline  
Apr 24th, 2005, 02:45 PM
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Our Michelin road atlas was great. And we did get off the beaten path.
RufusTFirefly is offline  
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