Special signal

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Under special signal is understood in Germany , the warning other road users by the highway code set (StVO) emergency vehicles using light signals and sound signals .

A fire brigade of the fire brigade Bonn with special signal on the way to a work site

Special signals in the form of acoustic and optical devices on vehicles are used to warn of dangers and / or to indicate to other traffic that special rights and rights of way are being used. For this purpose, blue (European area), red or yellow (only danger area) flashing light and emergency horn are provided. At times, Yelp and Wail signals were also used on a trial basis. The term special rights describes the legal basis according to the road traffic regulations and does not exist in other German-speaking countries.

Requirements and legal regulation in Germany

Delimitation: special signal, special rights and right of way

Special signals are acoustic and optical signal devices, the installation and use of which are only permitted under certain conditions.

The special right according to § 35 StVO exempts the right holder from the regulations of the StVO, as far as this is urgently necessary for the fulfillment of sovereign tasks (Paragraph 1) or, for vehicles of the rescue service, when the greatest urgency is required (Paragraph 5a). The use of special signals (neither optical nor acoustical) is necessary for this to take place.

The order of § 38 Paragraph 1 StVO is referred to as right of way and enforced by the emergency vehicle by means of a blue flashing light in combination with the emergency horn:

A blue flashing light together with the emergency horn [...] instructs: "All other road users have to clear the way immediately".

Deviations from the provisions of the Road Traffic Regulations may be made (special rights) if this is urgently required to fulfill sovereign tasks. In order to indicate to the rest of the traffic that a vehicle is making use of special rights, an appropriately equipped vehicle may use the special signal.

Requirements for the use of special signals

The use of special signals is regulated in Section 38 of the Road Traffic Act (StVO). Accordingly, the use of blue flashing lights in combination with the emergency horn is limited to a few exceptional situations. It may only be used when it is necessary to order

  • To save human life or prevent serious damage to health,
  • avert a danger to public safety or order,
  • to pursue fugitives or
  • to receive significant material assets.

Types of special signals

A distinction is made between optical and acoustic special signals, which may be used either alone (only optical signal) or in combination (optical and acoustic signal).

Special optical signals

Yellow and blue flashing lights are permitted as special signals. The red flashing light in connection with the Yelp signal is currently (status 2014) in some federal states as a stop signal in the test phase, but is not yet approved as an official special signal.

Flashing yellow light

Yellow flashing light according to § 38 StVO warns of dangers. It can be used stationary or from vehicles. The use of vehicles is only permitted to warn of work or accident sites, of unusually slow moving vehicles or of vehicles with an unusual width or length or with an unusually wide or long load (e.g. heavy haulage & agricultural vehicles).

Flashing blue light

Blue flashing light according to § 38 StVO warns of accident or other deployment locations and serves to indicate the use of special rights during deployment trips, when accompanying vehicles or with closed associations . During emergency trips it shows the other road users in connection with the following tone signal that the vehicle is claiming rights of way.

Red flash light

As in Austria, the color red is generally not permitted for rotating beacons. Only command vehicles of the fire brigade use red rotating beacons as soon as the place of action is reached in order to identify the command center, but never during an alarm trip.

Special acoustic signals

As the exclusive follow-up signal , the one with the emergency horn (colloquially also Martin horn or Martinshorn after the manufacturer Martin ) is permitted throughout Germany as a special signal. The Yelp signal is currently (as of 2014) being tested as a stop signal in various federal states, but has not yet been approved as an official special signal. Other signals (e.g. the wail signal) are not permitted.

Follow-up tone signal (emergency horn)

The subsequent tone signal is an alternating tone signal made up of a low tone and a high tone (tone sequence a′ – d ″, DIN  14610), known as “Tatütata”. It serves as an acoustic warning and to enforce the right of way . In an international comparison with several European countries and Australia, the sequential tone signal used by German rescue services and fire brigades had the slowest repetition frequency of around four seconds, and that of the police was also about 2.3 seconds above most of the signals compared.

Yelp Signal (Anhaltehorn)

The Yelp signal ( english to yelp [ jelp ] listen ? / I for whine '; Sound listen ? / I , onomatopoetic "Wiuwiuwiu") is a special acoustic signal lasting from a few seconds to put on and there decongestant howling. The red flashlight is used as a special optical signal. The combination of Yelp and a red flashlight serves as a stop signal and is intended to attract the driver's attention so that he can look in the rear-view mirror and notice the neon sign "Stop Police" switched in parallel to the Yelp signal. Audio file / audio sample Audio file / audio sample

The Yelp signal may have gone off. a. successfully tested in Hesse and from 2014 it was also tested in a test phase in other federal states (including Bavaria, Berlin and Saxony). The background to this is that the previously available stop signals ("stop police") are badly perceived by neon signs and the horn is misunderstood as a request to clear the ground. The aim is to get the driver to stop in front of the emergency vehicle and to avoid overtaking by the police, because on the one hand overtaking maneuvers can involve risks, and on the other hand the police vehicle behind the stopped car serves as protection against the flowing traffic.

Although a change in the road traffic licensing regulations has been initiated and the equipment of emergency vehicles with the Yelp signal is legally based on a resolution of the Conference of Interior Ministers on so-called support signals, Yelp and red flashlight are not yet a valid special signal in Germany in terms of the StVO. The legal basis is Section 52 (3a) StVZO for beacons with red flashing lights and Section 55 (3a) StVZO for the stop horn.

Wail signal

The wail signal (English to wail [ ˈweɪl ] listen ? / I for 'howl'; listen to a sound sample ? / I ) is a special signal that is not permitted in Germany with a continuously increasing and decreasing howling sound. It is used in numerous countries (e.g. in the USA) as a special acoustic signal on emergency vehicles. Audio file / audio sample Audio file / audio sample

In Germany, the Wail signal was tested in the cities of Erfurt , Weimar , Sömmerda and Naumburg (Saale) as a supplement to the following tone horn (Martinshorn), but without a permit. Since this is not an official DIN special signal, its use in Germany is prohibited. There is also no insurance cover when using the wail signal.

Individual and combined use of special optical and acoustic signals

In Germany, only the special optical signals “yellow flashing light” and “blue flashing light” may be used individually , i.e. without a special acoustic signal. They serve in this case

  • as a warning to other road users of accident or work sites (only yellow flashing light),
  • the notification of the use of special rights (only yellow flashing light or only blue flashing light), or
  • the warning of accident and emergency locations, marking of emergency trips, escort vehicles of other vehicles or a closed association (only blue flashing light).

An emergency trip without an emergency horn is therefore permissible, but requires even greater attention from the driver because the other road users can perceive the purely optical signal much more poorly. You are also not obliged to create a free path.

Acoustic special signals may only be used in combination with certain optical special signals:

  • Tone sequence signal (emergency horn) in combination with a blue flashing light to indicate the use of special rights and to enforce the right of way ,
  • Yelp signal in combination with the red flash as a stop signal.

The individual use of the tone sequence signal without a blue flashing light is not permitted and is prevented by technical equipment (e.g. special rotary pull switch).

Invalid signals

The use of hazard lights , high beam , the headlight flasher and the fog light is not one of the special signals under the Road Traffic Regulations.

The previously often used, "spring light", alternately automatic switching on of the high beam in addition to the low beam is no longer permitted. A corresponding resolution was passed by the federal-state technical committee in 2001, which the Federal Ministry of Transport notified the highest road traffic authorities of the states on March 19, 2001. Thereafter, no more exemptions for spring light switching may be granted and existing systems must be dismantled. However, the resolution was poorly enforced; many older emergency vehicles are still equipped with this facility and continue to use it.

Use of special rights with a special signal

If the prerequisites for the use of special rights are given, then z. B. Police , THW , fire brigade and rescue services (see § 35 Paragraph 1 and 5a StVO) use the special signal to indicate to other traffic the use of special rights while driving to the place of use.

If the requirements according to § 38 Abs. 1 StVO are met, the decision whether to drive with or without the emergency horn is made by the driver of the emergency vehicle.

Emergency vehicles of the rescue service

Use of special rights without a special signal

Special rights according to § 35 StVO do not necessarily require the use of the special signal, since special rights relate to the organizations and their representatives named in § 35 StVO and not to their vehicles.

Authorized persons are only persons who fulfill sovereign tasks. Outside this group of people, the special right is vehicle-specific (cf. §35 Paragraph 5a - 7 StVO).

This makes it possible, as an authorized person, to claim special rights even with vehicles without a special signal system, without being able to indicate this to other traffic. This requires the driver to be extremely attentive and to be aware of the enormous risks associated with such an emergency drive.

Further reasons for using special rights without a special signal can be of a tactical nature; In the case of threatened suicide, for example, the emergency horn is often dispensed with within earshot and the blue flashing light is within sight, but the journey is carried out until the end with the use of special rights.

However, the use of special rights without a special signal can be too delicate and u. U. lead to dangerous situations. An example is:

  • Due to the lack of a special signaling system, other road users cannot recognize that the driver is making use of special rights.

Claiming the right of way with a special signal

The right of way is colloquially referred to as the arrangement in Section 38 (1) of the StVO and enforced by the emergency vehicle by means of a blue flashing light in combination with the emergency horn:

A blue flashing light together with the emergency horn [...] instructs: "All other road users have to clear the way immediately".

Since the right of way can only be enforced by means of a blue flashing light in combination with the emergency horn, the opposite applies that an emergency vehicle that only indicates the use of special rights with the blue flashing light may deviate from the StVO (special rights), but from the There is no need to create a clear path for other road users (no right of way).

The right of way usually includes driving over stop signals (e.g. red traffic lights). Particularly in these situations, however, the emergency driver may only claim his right of way if all other road users affected by it (e.g. those whose traffic light shows "green" and whose path crosses the path of the emergency vehicle) clearly on their right (e.g. their right of right of way).

The Federal Court of Justice stated:

The vehicles given priority according to § 38 StVO, if they have switched on the blue light and emergency horn, are allowed to use the free lane created by other road users even if the right of way is met by traffic lights.

Significance of the special signals for other road users

Flashing yellow light

With the yellow flashing light, it matters whether it is stationary or attached to vehicles. In any case, it means the need for increased attention and, if necessary, the driver's willingness to brake.

Fixed yellow flashing lights warn of accident sites, workplaces or general dangers and require road users to be more alert and ready to brake.

Yellow flashing light on vehicles indicates the use of special rights, which depend on the purpose of the vehicle equipped with them. These can be, for example:

  • A tow vehicle with a yellow flashing light may stop and turn around when in use on motorways and motorways.
  • A garbage truck with a yellow flashing light is allowed to drive on one-way streets against the direction of travel.
  • A transport company emergency vehicle may stop in areas that otherwise have to be kept free at all times (e.g. crossings and rails) and be used for work.

Blue flashing light without emergency horn

Blue light on stationary emergency vehicles warns of emergency or accident sites. Blue light on moving vehicles shows other traffic that special rights are being used during an emergency trip.

In both cases, increased attention is required from the road user. In the case of moving vehicles, deviations from the road traffic regulations must also be expected, which can limit one's own rights; so it can happen that an emergency vehicle

  • stops or starts unexpectedly,
  • turns in forbidden directions,
  • is traveling in the unauthorized direction,
  • overtaken in the no-overtaking zone
  • exceeds the permissible maximum speed,
  • Stop sign crossed

etc. The rest of the traffic must adjust to deviations of this and similar types, but do not give the emergency vehicle a clear path.

In the case of escort and convoy journeys, which are indicated by a blue light, the entire association is viewed as a single vehicle so that the vehicles are not separated. Other road users must, for example, let all vehicles of the association pass through an intersection and are not allowed to separate the association by cutting into the column.

Blue flashing light in combination with a horn

The combination of blue light and emergency horn shows the other road users that the vehicle has both special rights and right of way. § 38 StVO, paragraph (1) states:

Blue flashing light together with the emergency horn [...] instructs: "All other road users have to clear the way immediately".

"To create a clear path" means for the other road users (also for oncoming traffic)

  • to drive right if possible,
  • to slow down their journey and stop if necessary,

to follow this order. If the road is not wide enough to allow a vehicle with a special signal to overtake, it may also be necessary to continue driving at normal speed until a point is reached where the emergency vehicle can overtake.

At crossings and junctions with stop signs (e.g. traffic lights) it may be necessary to drive carefully over the stop line to the side of the crossing area in order to create the necessary free path. However, no other road user may be endangered.

When there is a traffic jam on motorways and motorways, an emergency lane for emergency vehicles must always be formed between the first and second lanes from the left in order to enable emergency vehicles to pass through the traffic jam quickly.

Yelp signal with red flashing light

The Yelp signal in combination with a red flashing light is primarily intended to draw the driver's attention to the police vehicle behind it; from there further signals are given, e.g. B. by means of "Stop Police" neon signs, signal trowels, hand signals or a loudspeaker announcement.

Signals corresponding to the special signal in other countries


The term special signal does not exist in Austria . However, the use of blue light and tone horn is also regulated in the road traffic regulations , namely in Section 26:

"(1) The drivers of vehicles which, according to the motor vehicle regulations, are equipped with lights with blue light or blue rotating light and with devices for issuing warning signs with successive different high tones, may only use these signals in the event of imminent danger , for example when driving to and from the location of urgent assistance or to the location of other urgent operations. In addition, the signals listed may only be used to the extent necessary to carry out a protocol-based program for state visits or other state acts as well as in compliance with international law obligations. For reasons of traffic safety, the lights with blue light or blue rotating light may also be used at the place of assistance or other use or with an officially prescribed transport escort.

(2) Except in the cases listed in Paragraph 3, the driver of an emergency vehicle is not bound by traffic bans or traffic restrictions when driving. However, he must not endanger people or damage property.

(3) […] The drivers of emergency vehicles are allowed to drive into an intersection even when the light is red, if they have stopped beforehand and made sure that they do not endanger people or damage property. One-way streets and one-way lanes may only be used in the opposite direction if the place of use cannot be reached otherwise or cannot be reached in the required time [...]. "


Swiss legislation does not speak of special signals either, but of "special warning signals". Article 27, paragraph 2 of the Road Traffic Act states:

“The fire brigade, ambulance and police vehicles must be cleared of the road immediately when they perceive the special warning signals. Vehicles are to be stopped if necessary. "

The interpretation of this article leads to an implementation in practice that corresponds to that in Germany and Austria.

Driving with flashing lights without a siren or siren prompts other road users to be more careful, but in practice does not lead to an automatic right of way for the emergency vehicle. At the place of use, orange warning lights are always used, blue warning lights are only intended for moving vehicles. In the event of a particular hazard (e.g. in the case of blind bends or on motorways in bad weather), the blue lights may remain switched on even when the vehicle is stationary until other safety measures have been taken.


  • Lothar Schott, Manfred Ritter: Fire Brigade Basic Course FwDV 2 . 20th edition. Wenzel-Verlag, Marburg 2018, ISBN 978-3-88293-220-1 .

Web links

Individual evidence

  1. ^ Spiegel Online: New signals: German police stop with an American howl , 2005
  2. a b c d e f “Howls”; Article on sueddeutsche.de . Retrieved April 24, 2014.
  3. DIN 14507-2: 2008-03
  4. ^ Carl Q. Howard, Aaron J. Maddern, Elefterios P. Privopoulos: Acoustic characteristics for effective ambulance sirens. In: Acoustics Australia. 2011, accessed December 23, 2018 .
  5. 8. Ordinance amending road traffic regulations, BR-DrS 445/13, Road Traffic Licensing Regulations in force since August 1, 2013.
  6. Special signal: Howling prohibited. In: www.rettungsdienst.de. Archived from the original on February 27, 2011 ; accessed on July 16, 2019 .
  7. § 38 StVO; results in reverse from paragraphs (1) and (2).
  8. ^ Letter from the Federal Ministry of Transport dated March 19, 2001, Az. 33 / 36.25.61 / 001 BM 2001
  9. Gerhard Nadler: Claiming special rights with private vehicles , 2003 ( memento from October 11, 2014 in the Internet Archive )
  10. § 38 Paragraph 1 StVO
  11. Federal Court of Justice, December 17, 1974, IV ZR 207/73.
  12. SR 741.01 Road Traffic Act of December 19, 1958 (SVG). In: admin.ch . Federal Council (Switzerland) , accessed on May 9, 2017 .