Garageboy's Dream Garage

That's The Last Time I Go to Germany
Without My Illegal Radar Detector!


I have visited Germany so many times now that I maintain a standard list of what to bring. I always fly into the same city, and I always rent a nice car, usually a BMW but occasionally a Mercedes. One of the rental car agents at the airport even knows my face (long story). On a trip in September 2003 to revisit the Nürburgring and the Frankfurt Auto Show, I was considering venturing into one of the eastern European countries for a few days. Since the rental contracts explicitly forbid travel into the east with a fancy German rental car, it made sense to pack a little lighter in case I had to travel for part of my trip by train with my luggage. One item that was intentionally left off the usual "Must Have" list was my radar detector. You never need to bring your Valentine One - they don't use laser in Europe. But a compact, rock-solid 15+ year old Passport - the REAL Passport - the original Passport - works just fine there. Unfortunately, radar detectors are illegal in most countries in Western Europe. Fortunately, the likelihood of getting caught and risking having it confiscated is pretty minimal. So, like the funny guy on TV says: Don't leave home without it!

[Electronic Road Sign in Germany]

Getting a speeding ticket in Germany is way more civilized than the fear-ridden "process" we've all grown accustomed to on the left side of the pond. In Germany, you'll never be pulled over for properly passing a police car on the autobahn (highway), but don't pass them on the right or camp out in the passing lane when you're not passing, or else the Polizei will enjoy making an example of you and pull you over on the spot. However, speeding is treated differently. Since they don't have legal requirements to be "faced by one's accuser", getting a speeding ticket is a rather sophisticated affair on the autobahn.
[Portable Photo Radar]

Garageboy, Look UP!

After all these years, I finally got my first speeding ticket in Germany! And unlike all the other tickets I have ever received, this speeding ticket was totally justified! The electronic roadsign spoke to me: "Smile, goofball, you shouldn't have ignored the three HUGE 100kph speed limit signs and blown past at 140 as if there were still no speed limits in Germany." This particular electronic roadsign had both a radar unit and automated camera installed. As my car approached, that indelible *FLASH* of the camera recorded the event, and it was immediately clear what had just happened.

While there are many sections of the autobahn for which there is only a "suggested" limit of 130kph (around 82mph), one has to pay attention to all roadsigns because speed limits are now mandatory in many places. Due to increased traffic densities, more sections have speed restrictions than in the past. Many of the roadsigns are now electronic, so they can be changed by the authorities at a moment's notice due to bad weather, traffic, proximity to populated areas, not to mention construction zones, which the Germans take VERY seriously. It's always interesting to watch a German in an S-class Mercedes driving one moment like the Autobahnmeister at 240k+kph only to slow down to 60kph when he encounters a construction zone. This may sound very restrictive but fear not - driving on the autobahn is still the most fun you can have on the highway with your clothes on!

I've lived in and visited Europe enough times over the past 2 decades to have known better - my first electronic speeding ticket in Belgium was issued back in 1986. I have no doubt the German Polizei now have my mugshot (clothed) and I can't wait to receive my little souvenir in the mail... with that same German efficiency I've grown to love over the years... There is a valuable lesson here. Pack the Passport every time - it works as well as it did 15 years ago when it was new and it is good to give the electrons inside it a workout on occasion. It won't take up much room, and rental cars in Europe always have cigarette lighters so installation is never a problem.

By the way, I had so much fun in Germany, Holland, and Belgium that I used my rental car the entire time and never made it to eastern Europe on that trip. D'oh!

Note: Since the writing of this article, I found the German version of the Speedtrap Registry and if your German is passable, you can figure it out; it's called Radarfalle literally means "radar trap".

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©2004 - Steven J. Bernstein All rights reserved.

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Steven Jay Bernstein
updated Sunday, 8 March 2004 01:22:13