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Bicycle Safety and Regulations in Germany


Each town, city and state has different regulations concerning bicycles, and the enforcement of these laws varies from place to place. To be on the safe side, obey laws the same as you would at home. All bikes must have a bell and lights at the front and back, and drunken riding is illegal. Additionally, obey all traffic lights for both cars and bikes, ride on the right, pass on the left and ride single file.


Having a good sense of your surroundings will keep you safe while riding. German cities often have additional obstacles not present in America -- most notably, tram tracks, which pose a great danger to the careless biker, as the width of the tracks allows just enough room for a bike tire to get caught. Other obstacles include crowded pedestrianized areas, thin streets and cobblestone roads.

Bikes on Trains

All German trains except high-speed ICE accept roll-on bicycles. Be sure to purchase a bicycle ticket and look for the bike symbol on the side of the train car before boarding. And as always, when traveling across international borders, carry a passport.

Riding on the Sidewalk

In most places throughout Germany, riding on the sidewalk is illegal. If you find yourself in a pinch and must ride on the sidewalk, it's OK. You will often see local people riding on the sidewalk with little concern for the law, and police probably will let you off with a warning, especially as a foreigner. Use extreme caution, though, and ride slowly, as people can appear seemingly out of nowhere from doorways to shops, cafes and apartments.

Sidewalks where bicycling is permitted

Sidewalks may be indicated with sign 239 (pedestrians). Supplementary plaque 1022-10 indicates that bicycling is permitted. See figures on right. This permission applies only in the direction from which the signs are visible, and only if the signs
are repeated after each side road. Otherwise, the permission ends, and a bicyclist must ride on the roadway.


On such sidewalks, bicyclists are tolerated, as guests of the pedestrians.
Cyclists must ride at no more than a walking speed and must pay attention
to pedestrians. Bicyclists must slow and follow the pedestrians when necessary. "Ringing away" pedestrians with the bicycle bell is prohibited.


Bicycle Lanes & Shoulders

Many towns and cities throughout Germany have designated bike lanes. These lanes sometimes ride adjacent to the sidewalk or along the street, and many lanes are marked by their deep red color and a painted bicycle sign. As in the United States, ride on the right side of two-way bike lanes. If the bike lane is one-way, the lane on the right goes in the proper direction. Use caution, as pedestrians and tourists often unwittingly step into the bike lane. A simple ring of your bike's bell will solve the problem with a polite warning.

Use of side lanes designated using signs number 237, 240 or 241

Sign 237

Sign 240
Combined sidewalk and
bicycle path

Sign 241
Separated sidewalk and bicycle path

is mandatory. Cyclists are generally required to use these. This is true of bicycle paths to the right of the roadway as well as those to the left (left-side bicycle paths). The signs must be readable in the direction of travel -- riding is only permitted in the designated direction.
The mandatory-use requirement is troubling, because it is generally more dangerous to ride on side lanes than in the streets. This is especially true of side lanes on the left side of the street, where the crash risk is nearly twelve times as high.
If the sign is not repeatedafter an intersection, the mandatory bicycle path use ends. The bicycle path may continue, but its use is then optional.
On lanes shared with pedestrians, and on bicycle and pedestrian lanes that run side by side, bicyclists may ride only with special attention to pedestrians, and must when necessary slow to pedestrian speed.

Exceptions to mandatory use

However, even side lanes with signs indicating that they are mandatory need not be used under certain conditions. The exceptions, however, do not conform to the minimum requirements which were set forth by changes in the national traffic laws in 1997. The minimum requirements affect only what governments must do, and indicate when they may designate a side lane and make its use mandatory. The requirements have no effect on the individual cyclist, who can, as a start, rely only on the presence or absence of a bicycle path sign.

Exceptions to mandatory use have, however, been known for years through case law. Three conditions must be met for use to be mandatory. A lane must be:

  • Along a street
  • Usable
  • Reasonable

If a lane fails to meet even one of these criteria, its use is not mandatory. Riding on the roadway is then permitted even if there is a designated side lane.

Along a Street:

Lanes are not along a street if, for example, they are too far (generally 5 meters or more) from the roadway. A clear criterion for when they are not mandatory is that they do not have the same priority at intersections as the parallel street. Lanes which are far from a parallel street or whose route is entirely independent of streets are not considered to accompany streets.


Side lanes are not usable for example, if they

  • do not lead in the direction the cyclist intends to go (including, for example, when a bicyclist wants to turn left and must leave the side lane early enough to take the appropriate location on the roadway).
  • are blocked by parked vehicles or other obstacles (for example, trash cans) or pedestrians walk on them, so they cannot be used for bicycling,
  • are blocked in another way (for example, by piles of plowed snow), but also
  • covered with snow, but the street has been cleared.

The blocked section is not mandatory, but also it is not necessary to switch back and forth between the side lane and the roadway; rather, the cyclist should find as safe a place as possible to leave the side lane before the obstacle, and a safe place to return to the side lane. If the side lane is unusable every couple of hundred meters, then the entire stretch need not be used at all, because a repeated and therefore somewhat hazardous change of route cannot be considered reasonable.

In this case, it is irrelevant whether the sidewalk is available, as cyclists must not ride on sidewalks, or even take detours on them. It is only legal to use the roadway or push the bicycle on the sidewalk -- and the latter, only if no problem is created for pedestrians. In any case, it is legal to walk with a bicycle in the street, as well as to ride.


What is "reasonable" cannot be precisely defined. Certainly, under §3 StVO a bicyclist is required to ride no faster than is safe under existing conditions. A poor surface (for example, rough pavement, slippery leaves, trash) is not enough by itself to disqualify a side lane. If, however, it is not possible to compensate for the condition by adapting the style of riding, then use of the side lane is unreasonable, and cannot be mandatory.

What is"unreasonable"can possibly best be determined depending on whether the designated route can be conceived of as appropriate. This criterion excludes short stretches of side lanes on the left side from mandatory use, because in this case it is necessary to cross the roadway, and so a definite danger is created. Also, repeated alternation between sections of mandatory side lane and the roadway or between side lanes on the left side and right side is unreasonable.

Broken glass, trash, etc., for example, which lead repeatedly to tire punctures, also should not be accepted.

Non-mandatory side lanes

Non-mandatory side lanes are "recognizable as appropriate for bicycle use", but are not designated with signs 237, 240 or 241. It is unclear, however, how they are to be identified. A separation between the bicycle path and the roadway, and between the bicycle path and sidewalk, is a good indication. Colored pavement on the bicycle path or on part of the sidewalk is not sufficient, and neither is a simple white dividing line. Painted bicycle symbols or representations of sign 237 on the surface may possibly indicate a bicycle path. In case of doubt, the roadway should be used.

Side lanes on the right side of the street may be used by bicyclists, but use is not mandatory.

Left side non-mandatory side lanes are identified by a supplementary plaque.
See figure on right. If not so designated,it is illegal to ride on such lanes
on the left side of the street

Bike lanes

Similar rules apply to bike lanes on the roadway (separated by surface marking 295 -- a wide line denoting the edge of the travel lanes). In particular, the use of a bike lane is mandatory only when indicated by sign 237. The surface marking is not sufficient to indicate mandatory use (see also §39 Abs. 5 no. 8 StVO); there must also be a sign. If there is no dividing stripe, the sign has no prescriptive effect; nonetheless, the sign is necessary to establish the mandatory use requirement, which depends only on the signage.

Protection lanes

Protection lanes (Schutzstreifen), better called optional lanes"Angebotsstreifen", are lanes which are for the most part very narrow and are separated from the roadway by pavement marking 340 (guide stripe, dashed line). They may be indicated using bicycle symbols as well. They are intended to protect bicyclists, but like side lanes and bike lanes, they often have the opposite effect.

Protection lanes must be used if wide enough. "Wide enough" means, above all, that it is not necessary to ride too close to the edge of the roadway, or within range of opening doors of parked cars. Case law prescribes specific shy distances away from sidewalks, about 70 to 80 cm (27.5 – 31.5 in), and from parked vehicles, at least one meter (39.4 in). If these distances cannot be maintained within the protection lane, a bicyclist should ride alongside it to its left. The requirement to keep to the right is intended primarily to protect traffic coming from the opposite direction, not to force vehicles to travel at the extreme right edge.
Unlike with bike lanes, other vehicles may merge into the protection lane; for example, when they cannot otherwise pass oncoming traffic. However, they may not do this in such a way as to endanger bicyclists. Observation of actual street traffic makes it questionable whether this requirement is followed in practice.

Shoulders (Seitenstreifen)

Shoulders are strips at the right edge of the roadway, indicated using marking 295 (roadway edge; solid line) but not designated as bike lanes (by means of signs). Bicyclists may ride in them, if not causing problems for pedestrians. Farm vehicles, tractors and other slow vehicles must use them. In particular, standing and parked vehicles must use them.

Appendix: Legal Basis

(German Traffic Ordinance (StVO §2) - Use of streets by vehicles

(1) Vehicles must use the roadway. On a street with a median, vehicles must use the roadway to the right of the median. Shoulders are not part of the roadway. .

(2) It is required to keep as far right as possible not only when there is oncoming traffic, but also when being overtaken, at hillcrests, in curves and when sight conditions are poor.


(4) Cyclists must ride single file; they may ride side by side only when traffic is not impeded. They must use side lanes designated for their direction of travel only when sign 237, 240 or 241 is posted. Side lanes without sign 237, 240 or 241 may be used. Side lanes on the left side without sign 237, 240 or 241 may only be used when "Radverkehr frei" (bicycle traffic permitted) is posted alone. Bicyclists may also use a shoulder on the right side if there is no side lane and pedestrian use is not impeded. Outside built-up areas, mopeds also may travel on bicycle paths.

(5) Children through the end of their 8th year are required to ride bicycles on sidewalks, and through the end of their 10th year are permitted to. They must pay special attention to pedestrians. Children must dismount to cross roadways.

Riding a bike is a great way for kids to enjoy fresh air and get a healthy cardiovascular workout, not to mention the fun of racing with their friends or riding with the family. In order to keep your children safe when they are riding, there are some important checks you need to make to their bicycle and its safety equipment.


Helmets are such a crucial part of bicycle safety that adults and children should never ride without a helmet due to the risk of brain injury in the event of a fall. To ensure safety, a helmet should have an approval sticker from the Consumer Product Safety Commission or European Commission (CE) that says it meets their standards. Make sure the helmet fits your child correctly. It should fit level on a child’s head, without tipping backwards or twisting sideways. Kids must fasten the safety strap snugly, so the helmet remains in the proper position while riding.


Especially if a child rides his bike in the dark, bright clothes are important to ensure visibility. Avoid wearing dark colors, and make sure clothing does not hang down near the bike’s chain or tires where it could become entangled. A reflective vest or reflective tape applied to the helmet also aids in visibility. Closed toed shoes are a must for riding, and tie laces tightly.

Bike Size

It is important to make sure a kid is not riding a bike that is too big for her frame. When a child is standing, there should be at least 1 inch between her and the top bar. Adjust the seat so that her leg is slightly bent when the pedal is extended.

Visibility Aids

Prominently displayed reflectors are a must for the front and back of the bike. If a child rides in heavy traffic areas, an orange flag that extends several feet above the bike helps motorists see the bike more easily.

Equipment Check

Before riding, check all of the bolts around the handlebars, seat and wheels for tightness. Inspect the chain for wear or damage, and add oil as recommended by the manufacturer so that it moves freely and smoothly. Test your brakes, and fill tires with the appropriate amount of air for the type of riding you plan to do. If the tires are low on air, examine the tire to make sure there are no obvious leaks or cracks in the material



Penalty Catalogue for Cyclists (most common ones)

Riding without bell, tail light or tail reflector

€ 10.00

Illegal transporting of people (handlebars, carrier):
Only children in designated child seats are allowed to be transported.

€ 10.00

Riding a bicycle without holding on to the handlebars

€ 10.00

To hold on to another vehicle

€ 10.00

Changing direction without indicating signals

€ 10.00

Riding during dark hours without light

€ 10.00

Riding with defective bakes

€ 20.00

Damaging a parking/stopping vehicle while passing by

€ 35.00

Riding with headphones

€ 10.00

Using a cell phone while riding

€ 15.00

Turning left without following the bicycle traffic direction:
If impeding others
If endangering others
If damaging property

€ 15.00
€ 25.00
€ 35.00

Not using the mandatory bicycle path:
If impeding others
If endangering others
If damaging property
This applies to race cyclists as well

€ 20.00
€ 20.00
€ 25.00
€ 30.00

Not considering pedestrians when riding on combined sidewalks and bicycle paths:
If impeding others
If endangering others
If damaging property

€ 15.00
€ 20.00
€ 25.00

Riding against a one way road (unless additional sign allows it):
If impeding others
If endangering others
If damaging property

€ 15.00
€ 20.00
€ 30.00

Ignoring right of way:
If impeding others
If endangering others
If damaging property

€ 20.00
€ 25.00
€ 30.00

Running a red light:
If endangering others or causing damage:  4 traffic points
If traffic light is red more than 1 second:  4 traffic points
If traffic light is red more than 1 second, endangering others or causing damage:  4 traffic points

€ 125.00
€ 125.00
€ 125.00

Riding under the influence of alcohol (over 1.6 per mill):  might result in revocation
of driver license


Getting involved in an accident (as of 0.3 per mill): might result in revocation of
driver license


It is generally prohibited to take part in road traffic if under the influence of alcohol. This applies also to pedestrians.