Umweltplakette Restriction on Driving in Germany City Centers

Low-Emission Zones (LEZ), or Umweltzonen, are banishing older, polluting passenger cars from many German cities such as Berlin, Cologne and Stuttgart with more to follow.

Umweltzonen_in_Deutschland
Umweltzones in Germany (more cities are added and restrictions become tighter every few months) © Markus Baumer / Wikipedia

Travelers planning to drive in Germany should take note of new regulations that are coming into force to clean up the air in especially cities. Low-Emission Zones (LEZ), or Umweltzonen in German, are becoming the norm in polluted areas with both German and foreign-registered cars affected.

  • The necessary Umweltplakette sticker to proof that a car is not polluting must be obtained prior to entering an Umweltzone.

What Are Umweltzonen or Low-Emission Zones in German cities?

German emission restriction signsUmweltzonen are parts of some German cities that may only be entered by vehicles displaying stickers (Feinstaubplaketten) confirming that the car is not emitting small particles with exhaust fumes. Although based on European Union regulations aimed at reducing pollution in heavily populated areas, the enforcement and requirements for low emission zones are not uniform in Europe (nor in Germany for that matter).

Low-emission zones in Germany are marked by square white signs with a red ring containing the word Umwelt with ZONE added directly below the red ring. Directly underneath this sign is second sign with the word “frei” and colored circles indicating which vehicles may enter the zone.

  • Currently, vehicles displaying red, yellow, or green Umweltplakette stickers are allowed to enter most Umweltzonen but requirements are increasingly being tightened with many zones now open to green stickers only.

Where Are Umweltzone Restrictions Enforced

Umweltzonen are mostly in major cities but even smaller towns such as Leonberg, Pleidelsheim, Rechlinghausen, and Tübingen have restriction zones. Most major German cities already enforcing Umweltzone restrictions include Berlin, Cologne (Köln), Frankfurt, Hanover, and Stuttgart. Most zones will only allow green stickets from 2013. Notable exceptions are Aachen and Hamburg where any car may still enter the city center.

Requirements for Obtaining a Sticker (Feinstaubplakette)

All cars entering an Umweltzone must display a sticker (Feinstaubplakette) in the windscreen to confirm that the vehicle complies with the emission standards. The correct term in German is Feinstaubplakette (fine dust sticker) but Umweltplakette (environment sticker) is very commonly used too.

  • Foreign vehicles are not exempt and the requirement is enforced year-round.

For cars registered in Germany, and foreign-registered cars where the emission information is readily available from the vehicle’s registration papers, emission standards known as Euro 1, 2, 3, and 4 are used to determine the applicable sticker color. Other foreign-registered cars obtain stickers based on the date of the first registration of the vehicle.

The basic requirements for Feinstaubplaketten are:

  • Green stickers are for petrol-driven cars (Euro 1 or better) first registered since 1993 and diesel vehicles registered since 2006 (Euro 4 or better).
  • Yellow stickers are for diesel cars (Euro 3) first registered between 2001 and 2005.
  • Red stickers are for diesel cars (Euro 2) first registered between 1997 and 2000.

Diesel cars fitted with a particulate filter obtain the sticker one class higher than those without filters. Petrol cars without a catalyst cannot obtain a sticker.

Most exemptions to the requirements are not applicable to foreign visitors. However, vehicles of heavily impaired or disabled persons, as well as vehicles over 30-years old, can be exempted but individual applications are necessary.

Where Can Feinstaubplaketten Be Purchased?

Feinstaubplaketten can be bought from many car dealers, car registration offices, and many garages. In some cases, tourist information offices and even hotels within an Umweltzone obtain stickers for potential guests. Car registration documents may generally be faxed, scanned and emailed, or copies mailed – certified copies are not required.

  • The price for the stickers is set individually by service providers but generally range from €5 to €15.

The fine for not displaying a sticker inside an Umweltzone is €40 (payable on the spot) and a point against the license holder in the German register.

Driving is a pleasurable way to travel in Germany and especially to explore the countryside. However, driving and parking in major cities are increasingly troublesome and with the Umweltzonen added, using the excellent German railway system is often the better choice for traveling to major cities such as Berlin, Munich, and Cologne.

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About the author:

Henk Bekker

Henk Bekker is a freelance travel writer with over 20 years of experience writing online. He is particularly interested in history, art, and culture. He has lived most of his adult life in Germany, Switzerland, and Denmark. In addition to European-Traveler.com, he also owns a travel website on the Lake Geneva region of Switzerland and maintains statistical websites on car sales and classic car auction prices. Henk holds an MBA from Edinburgh Business School and an MSc in Development Finance from the University of London.

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