How to correctly form the emergency lane in a traffic jam

Every year there are thousands of accidents and traffic jams on German motorways. This is when the emergency lane is particularly important. But how is it formed? An overview.

The emergency lane is required by law in Germany and can be vital in the event of an accident. But how do you form one correctly?
The emergency lane is required by law in Germany and can be vital in the event of an accident. But how do you form one correctly? © Stefan Puchner/dpa

In Germany, drivers are stuck in traffic jams and slow-moving traffic every day. Often, serious accidents are the reason for this. So that potentially injured people can be helped quickly, it is important that an emergency lane is formed quickly and correctly.

But there are always problems. One of the things that caused a stir in 2022 was an accident on the A9 north of Leipzig, in which several emergency services had to walk over three kilometers to the scene of the accident.

The lane for emergency vehicles required by law in Germany can be vital to survival. But how do you form it correctly? And what are the consequences of not complying with the legal regulations? Sächsische.de offers an overview.

When must an emergency lane be formed?

An emergency lane is essential for providing care to those involved in an accident. It allows the police, fire brigade, rescue services or tow trucks to get to the affected area as quickly as possible.

Road users must form an emergency lane when they are travelling outside of town on a road with at least two lanes in one direction and traffic begins to come to a standstill.

In concrete terms, this means that on multi-lane roads such as motorways, an emergency lane must be formed when you are driving at walking pace and not only when emergency vehicles are approaching. This is because when cars are already stuck in a traffic jam on the motorway, there is often not enough space to maneuver.

But space must also be made for emergency vehicles in urban areas. To do this, drivers can drive through red lights if they are careful. The legal obligation arises from Section 11 Paragraph 2 of the Road Traffic Regulations.

How do you form an emergency lane?

The road traffic regulations clearly regulate how to correctly form an emergency lane. The following conditions apply:

  • On roads with two lanes must be stopped in traffic in the An emergency lane in the middle between both lanes Cars in the left lane move as far to the left as possible, while road users in the right lane move as far to the right as possible.
  • At three-lane roads is the Emergency lanes between the leftmost and middle lane The middle and right lanes therefore move to the right.
  • Even on motorways or expressways with four tracks in one direction, drivers must travel between the leftmost and all other lanes form an emergency lane.
  • The guidelines also apply to Motorway entrancesCare must be taken to ensure that rescue workers can reach the actual emergency lane as easily as possible – even across several lanes.
  • In principle, the Side stripesalso called hard shoulder or breakdown lane, remain free This should only be used if it is absolutely necessary for the emergency lane or if you are instructed to do so by emergency services.
© 2019 ADAC

What should you do if there is a traffic jam in a construction site area?

In an emergency, you must form an emergency lane not only on open roads but also in the area of ​​a construction site. Due to the narrowness of the construction site area, car and truck drivers should therefore pay even more attention to the traffic.

You should consider the following when creating an emergency lane in the construction site area:

When is a fine threatened?

Since 2017, the legislature has significantly increased the fines for creating an emergency lane and for obstructing emergency services. A fine threatens already then, if you have not formed an emergency lane in a traffic jam or slow-moving traffic. One Disability or even danger of the rescue workers has an even more aggravating effect on the catalogue of fines. If there is also a Damage to property If this happens, fines of up to 320 euros may be due.

That too Unauthorized use of an emergency lane can be expensive for you. Because this is only reserved for the police, fire brigade, rescue services and tow trucks. By the way: The emergency lane and the hard shoulder may not be used by motorcyclists either – there are no exceptions for two-wheelers.

The same applies to unauthorized turns on the highway. You are not allowed to turn around, reverse or even drive in the opposite direction on German motorways unless you receive an explicit request to do so from emergency services. Anyone who “endangers the life or limb of another person or other people’s property of significant value” through such an unauthorized maneuver faces up to five years in prison or a fine under Section 315c of the Criminal Code.

It is also forbidden to Entering the motorwayAccording to paragraph 18 of the Road Traffic Act, “pedestrians are not allowed to use motorways” – unless there is an emergency (such as first aid measures or a breakdown). Otherwise, a fine of ten euros is threatened. However, if there is a complete standstill in a traffic jam, the police will probably be accommodating. The emergency lane should always be kept clear.

You face these sanctions if you do not clear a path for emergency vehicles:

  • Emergency lane not formed: 200 euros, 2 points in the driving license register and one month driving ban
  • Emergency lane not formed with obstructionfor example by emergency services: 240 euros, 2 points and one month driving ban
  • Failure to form an emergency lane poses a risk: 280 euros, 2 points and one month driving ban
  • Failure to form an emergency lane leads to property damage: 320 euros, 2 points and one month driving ban

These fines apply if you use the emergency lane without authorization:

  • Unauthorized use of an emergency lane in slow-moving traffic: 240 euros, 2 points in Flensburg and one month driving ban
  • Unauthorized use with disability: 280 euros, 2 points and one month driving ban
  • Unauthorized use with risk: 300 euros, 2 points and one month driving ban
  • Unauthorized use with damage to property: 320 euros, 2 points and one month driving ban

What rules apply abroad?

Similar to Germany, most European countries also have rules regarding the right of way for emergency vehicles. The emergency lane is also required by law in some countries

An overview of the rules abroad:

  • Austria: Similar to Germany, the emergency lane has been mandatory in the neighboring country since 2012 when traffic is at a standstill. In Austria, however, the regulation applies to all multi-lane roads that are separated from the opposite side, regardless of whether they are in town or out of town. Here, too, the emergency lane is formed between the leftmost lane and the next lane next to it. However, the hard shoulder can also be used.
  • Switzerland: The Road Traffic Act defines that “fire, medical, police and customs vehicles […] to clear the road immediately upon noticing the special warning signals [ist].” Since January 1, 2021, every driver on motorways and expressways is also required to form an emergency lane between the left outer lane and the second lane from the left.
  • Poland: In the neighboring state of Saxony, there are calls from the police and fire department to form an emergency lane, but there are currently no regulations in this regard. However, according to the Road Traffic Act, generally obstructing emergency services can result in a fine of 500 zloty (around 118 euros) and five points on your traffic offenders’ record. In special cases, criminal charges can also be filed.
  • Czech Republic: Since October 2018, an emergency lane must be formed in the Czech Republic, just like in Germany and Austria. As a precautionary measure, a free lane of at least three meters must be created on motorways and expressways with two or more lanes between the outer left lane and the lanes next to it. Before 2018, drivers had to form an emergency lane between the outer right lane and the lane next to it on the left. This was changed to standardize across the EU.
  • Hungary: In Hungary, too, an emergency lane has been required since September 2012. The same rules apply as in Austria: leave a clear path between the outer left lane and all other lanes and, if necessary, drive on the hard shoulder.

Information on the regulations in other countries can be found at the General German Automobile Club (ADAC).