Is the Nurburgring a public road? Explained

Alex Gassman

by Alex Gassman

Wehrseifen corner on the Nurburgring Nordschleife

The Nurburgring is the greatest and most challenging circuit in the world. Manufacturers test and develop their new performance cars here. The Nurburgring 24 hour race is held here. So how is the Nurburgring a public road? And can any member of the public drive on it? I give the full explanation in this article.

Contents

What was the Nurburgring built for?

In our article on how much it cost to build the Nurburgring, we explain in detail why the Nurburgring was built. In summary, in the early 1900s there was a desire to have a purpose built automotive test track so Germany could further develop and improve its automobiles. This would give them a better chance of beating cars from other countries in international racing events.

So in 1927 the Nurburgring was opened as a dedicated motor vehicle testing and racing circuit. Whilst it quickly populated its calendar with numerous racing events for cars and motorcycles, there was obviously a lot of down-time between races. To fill the gaps and increase income, the circuit needed to be used for something else.

As such, shortly after the circuit opened in the 1920s, the public could buy a lap ticket and use the circuit as a one-way toll road on the days where there were no race events. This was the birth of Touristenfahrten (tourist driving)

A land rover on 2 wheels almost rolls during public driving on the Nordschleife in the 1970s

Is the Nurburgring a public road?

When it is used for tourist driving, the Nurburgring is classed as a public road. More specifically, a one-way derestricted toll road. 

But it is not open 24/7 – check out the specific Nordschleife opening times for more information. Apart from its length, complexity and how dangerous it is, this is the one thing has always set the Nurburgring apart from other circuits in the world.

There are no lane markings or road markings as there would be on any other public road, and the Ring definitely looks like a race circuit (one covered in graffiti). But there are some specific road laws that need to be followed – read more below, and check out our full list of Nurburgring rules for a comprehensive understanding.

The Nurburgring is only a public road for tourist driving sessions, however. When there is an official Nurburgring track day or race event, the Ring is classed as a racing circuit.

Porsche GT3 on the Nurburgring

Why is the Nurburgring a public road?

Insurance. Keeping the Nurburgring as a public road means that hundreds of thousands of visitors a year can visit the Ring, pay for a lap ticket during tourist driving and in theory their own car insurance will provide first and third party coverage for accident damage or injury in the event of an incident.

However, we know this is not the case, especially if you’re a UK driver; read our in-depth article on tourist driving insurance for a full understanding of your liabilities before you head out on track.

On a track day, the track day organizer (TDO) has to provide public liability cover for a very select number of cars attending that track day. Normally this is a hundred or so cars maximum and the TDO’s liability insurance policy will limit them to a certain number of events a year.

During tourist driving the Nurburgring can see thousands of different cars take to the track each day. This number of cars, and the risks involved, is un-insurable with a blanket policy that would cover everyone, each day. The cost would be just too great.

So to keep hundreds of thousands of visitors coming to the Ring each year for Touristenfahrten, and to keep them pumping millions in to the local tourism industry, keeping the ‘Ring as a public road is the only way.

Observe the rules of the public road

Is the Nurburgring a public road? Yes. Does that mean the road rules and regulations apply? Yes.
The official Nurburgring driving regulations make this very clear in the first paragraph, shown in the image below.

The Nurburgring driving regulations stating the public road laws apply

This not only affects how you should drive, but what you should be driving. The same regulations state your car must be compliant with the German Road Vehicle Registration Regulation (StVZO) – as in theory it should be if you drive on the road anywhere in Germany.

The Nurburgring driving regulations stating the rules for public vehicles apply

Whilst you don’t need to study the StVO or StVZO in microscopic detail, you should familiarize yourself with the full list of basic Safety Rules for tourist driving.  Check out our article that looks at all of the Nurburgring rules. The image below shows the most important of these – click to expand it.

We also looked at a few of these rules in more detail in other articles, such as the no drifting rules, why you don’t need to wear a helmet, the circuit noise limits, the license plate rules and whether you are allowed to film your laps.

Overtaking during tourist driving

Is the Nurburgring a public road? Yes. Does that mean you can only overtake on one side? Yes.

This one of the most important rules to follow. When you head out on to the Nordschleife for a lap during tourist driving, you should treat the circuit as the one-way toll road that it is. This means that as you are in Germany, overtaking must only happen on the left. If you are the car being overtaken, you must stick to the right and ideally indicate to the right.

If you have seen a faster car approach you, indicate to the right and stick to the right side of the circuit. Do NOT then cut across the left of the track and go for an apex; the overtaking car will have seen you indicate, move right and will therefore presume it is safe to pass. Any sudden change in your road position at that point can, and does, cause accidents.

A VW SUV goes off the circuit when overtaking on the Nurburgring Nordschleife

Does the Nürburgring have a speed limit?

During tourist driving, the Nurburgring is a desrestricted one-way toll road with no speed limit. This means that when you’re out on the circuit, you’re free to go as fast as you want, with one exception.

At roughly half-way round the lap you get to Breidscheid bridge in Adenau. This used to be a second public entrance to the circuit, now it is just used as a public exit, and an entrance for emergency vehicles only.

Breidscheid corner on the Nurburgring

Because this is a blind corner and there was a large speed disparity between cars entering the circuit and those on a flying lap they introduced a speed limit in this section. 

The risk of this speed difference was still too great, so as of 2022 they have stopped cars entering here. Cars can still exit, however, but the exit is very tight. Cars have to swing out on to the left side of the track which still poses a danger for cars approaching at speed, so the risk still exists.

The speed limits here begin at the exit of the previous corner – Wehrseifen – and get gradually slower. Starting with a 90km/h sign, then 70, then a 50 when you get to the bridge.

Once you are past the exit the national speed limit sign shows that the circuit is again derestricted.

The speed limits here aren’t strictly enforced, and you will notice very few people obey them. However you must be aware that you are approaching a blind corner where there could be a car going super slowly exiting or entering. So you must not drive at 10/10ths; always be ready to slow down immediately as you come around the Breidscheid corner.

The Polizei

As the Nurburgring is a public road during tourist driving, Mr Polizei can and will get involved in the event of an accident. If you are deemed to have caused an incident through dangerous driving or vehicle negligence (a fluid spill for example) then don’t expect to just be able to leave the circuit – the Nurburgring officials will tell you to hang around until the Polizei arrive.

Again, read our full article on tourist driving insurance to understand the risks and liabilities when you’re on circuit.

Alex Gassman

I‘m Alex. I write F1 and motorsport travel guides based on my experience as racing driver and full-time motorsport nerd. I’ve traveled the world watching F1 and other racing series.

I started oversteer48 with the aim of helping other motorsport fans who are planning on watching some racing themselves.

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