Move Over or Fork It Over! New Laws for Rettungsgassen on German Highways

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An example of a Rettungsgasse on Motorway 659 as an Ambulance makes way toward the accident scene. Photo taken by LosHawlos for wikicommons

New Fines plus Points in Flensburg and Driving Ban to be enforced for blocking emergency lane on German highways. Even for driving and using E-devices. 

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BERLIN/FLENSBURG-  Many people travelling in Germany probably don’t know the term Rettungsgasse, especially if they hear this word on the radio while listening to the traffic report and at the same time, travelling to their destination. A Rettungsgasse is an emergency lane that is created by travellers on German highways, so that police, rescue crews and paramedics can travel to the scene of the accident as quickly as possible. This emergency lane is created when an accident occurs, causing traffic on the highway to come to a halt. While this practice is used mostly on motorways (Autobahn), expressways (Schnellstrasse) and other roads that have multiple lanes, many people don’t know how to create one. An illustration below provides you with some steps on how to create one (hint: Spur is German for lane)

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Image courtesy of Inga Jablonsky

To sum up, drivers are to move off to the side as far as possible to allow passage and save the lives of those affected by an accident.

Yet many drivers are unaware of the fact that when there is a jam on the highway and cars in front of them and crews travelling with blue lights and a Martin horn, that they should move off to the side and let them pass. For a Martin horn, it sounds like this:

In some cases, drivers have blocked Rettungsgassen on the highways, thus hindering crews from going to the scene.

Some of whom, as seen in the video above, have used Smartphones and mobile phones to photograph or even film the scene of the accident.

Effective immediately, it will cost drivers doing one of the two or both more than just money. The German Ministry of Transportation and Digital Infrastructure (BMVDI) has passed a pair of much stricter laws involving both traffic violations.  For blocking the Rettungsgasse and not paying attention to the sirens of the police and rescue crews, one can expect a fine of at least 200 Euros and two points will be added to the driver’s record at the Office of Vehicle Registration in Flensburg. According to the laws in Flensburg passed in 2014, eight or more points means revokation of the driver’s license and possibly retraining on how to drive at the expense of the offender.

In this case, being a spectator, texting while not paying attention or just intentionally blocking the emergency lane will be very costly.  Not building a Rettungsgasse constitutes a fine of 200 Euros plus two Flensburg points. Not building this important lane when the crews go to the scene means 240 Euros, two points and a one month ban from driving.  Blocking the lane while causing damage and endangering lives means a fine of 320 Euros, two or more Flensburg Points, driving ban PLUS confiscation of the vehicle and other items as evidence to be used in court AND possible prosecution!

If you use your electronic device, regardless of whether you are driving or in a traffic jam and/or forming a Rettungsgasse, you can expect a 100 Euro fine and a Flensburg point. Endangering others constitute 150 Euros and two points. Causing damage means 200 Euros, two points and a one month driving ban!

For both offences, the sanctions have increased by more than two-fold as there have been more and more reports of drivers blocking the Rettungsgasse both intentionally as well as unintentionally, many of whom had been either texting or using devices to film accidents. Even doing the latter alone has caused numerous accidents and fatalities in general. According to studies by the Center for Disease Control, an average of nine people die every day from accidents caused by distracted driving, over 1000 are injured.

But the sharp increase in fines and sanctions for blocking the Rettungsgasse comes as officials are cracking down on drivers who do not create these lanes during traffic jams, even if no accidents are reported; most of the traffic jams occur on heavily travelled motorways in the western half of Germany as well as in large cities. This includes the Motorways 3, 6, 7, and 9, as well as motorways and highways in cities, like Munich, Berlin, Frankfurt and Hamburg.  But even more so, the introduction of tougher sanctions comes in response to the freak bus accident and fire last year near Münchberg in northern Bavaria, along the Motorway 9. 18 people died, including the driver, who rescued as many passengers as possible before succumbing to the smoke and burns. According to reports, drivers blocked the Rettungsgasse and took pictures with their phones, thus hampering rescue efforts.

With the introduction of tougher measures, drivers will be forced to pay more attention to the road and not with their electronic devices. Especially when traffic jams occur on the multi-lane highways will drivers be forced to assume the worse and create the emergency lane to allow for rescue crews to get to the scene as quickly as possible.

As a county engineer in Iowa once said: These laws are there to save lives.  It is hoped that these measures will get the driver to think about the lives of others at risk while driving.

So please, pay attention, put the phone down and please the people in front of you. You will do yourself and them a big favor and save yourself some money, time and your car. Thank you.

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Emergency lane laws are similar to the ones in the United States, Canada and other countries. The Move-over Laws that have been enacted since the 1990s require drivers to move over one lane to provide a lane’s width of space for people at the scene of an accident, car repair or any other sort of emergency. Failure to comply can result in the loss of driving privileges for at least a half year in many areas plus fines in the hundreds.

Drivers not originating from Germany but are caught by police for traffic violation are asked to either pay up at the scene where they are pulled over, or they receive a letter addressed to their home countries requesting the fine to be paid. In these cases the point system is usually not enforced. In worst cases, they may be taken into custody at the police precinct.

 

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Flensburg Point System Reform: A necessity for travel in Germany?


The Flensburg Point system in Germany is one of the most well-structured and categorized systems used to track and crack down on reckless drivers on the roads as well as determine the severity of the traffic offenses committed, whether it is speeding, driving while texting, or causing an accident. In its 63rd  year, it has reduced the annual number of accidents by at least 50% and has taken tens of thousands of drivers unfit for driving off the roads.
Yet, despite the successes, the point system is in the process of being reformed, sparking criticism from all sides of the spectrum who believe that the reform is the least of the problems of the German.  In a nutshell, the value of the points given to the driver per offense has been halved. Meaning for example, instead of two points for speeding, the driver would receive one point. For serious offenses which warranted seven points combined with heavy fines and revocation of the driver’s license, they would be reduced to two points. However, it does not mean that the people can commit more traffic offenses and get away with not paying a fine or being forced to retake driver’s training in order to get their licenses back. The maximum number of points needed before losing the driver’s license would also be reduced from 18 to eight, and the points collected in the old system would be calculated into the new system accordingly. Even the amount of time to work off the points in the Flensburg file (Verjährungsfrist) will be extended. Up until now it took a year to work off a point. According to the new rules, it takes two, while two points can be worked off in three years. The main intention, according to the Minister of Transportation, Peter Ramsauer, is to have more transparency with regards to the regulations and how the point system should be used per offense.
Yet opposition from the automobile clubs, the German police and even members of the oppositional party disagree with these new guidelines. Apart from the fact that the changes in the point system were unnecessary, many believe that the reforms that took place served as a distraction to the major problems facing travelers in Germany, which have become sophisticated and difficult to handle. This includes the problems with driving under the influence of alcohol, driving while on the cell phone and a new phenomenon that originated from the US but has made its way to European soil, texting while driving, which is considered an offense both in the US as well as in Germany. By laxing the Flensburg Point system, critics claim that it will give (potential) offenders an incentive to break the laws on the road, in particular with regards to speeding, which is common on German highways, especially the Autobahnen (German Motorways).
Despite being dependent on public transportation and bike (as I live in a city with 120,000 inhabitants), there are some times where travelling by car is necessary, and judging by the observations, reforming the system can only be necessary if and only if certain traffic offenses that were not very common 20-30 years ago are becoming a major problem today.  If there was a ranking of the most common traffic offenses common to German standards today, it would be ranked as the following:

Speeding and reckless driving
Driving while under the influence of alcohol
Distracted driving (not concentrating because of loud music or lack of sleep)
Driving while talking on the cell phone
Driving while texting.

In US standards today, driving while texting is the number one offense followed by driving while talking on the cell phone, and law enforcement officials have increased in numbers on many major highways in the last three years and have not hesitated in ticketing and jailing someone for speeding and driving under the influence of alcohol. This has resulted in a dramatic drop in the number of these incidences over time and drivers really watching it while driving- being overly careful to ensure that the money earned through their jobs do go for paying the fine or even worse, paying for court costs. In Germany, it is totally different.
We are faced with a double-edged sword on German roads today as we are seeing two sets of trends that could negatively impact the way we drive. The first one is that we are seeing more people going mobile- meaning that more people are commuting away from their homes in order to get better pay elsewhere. This includes many people living in the northern and eastern parts of the country but working in the southern half of the country, in places like Bavaria, Baden-Wurttemberg, Hesse, Rheinland-Palatinate, and Saarland, just to name a few. While train service has become more and more difficult to come by, the only way to work for many is by car and therefore, there is the trip home late Friday night and back to work on Monday morning, the times where most of the accidents take place. This also applies to people travelling by car on business trips and having to arrive at their destinations punctually to avoid being looked down upon. As many of us know, Germany prides itself on being the most punctual, so being there 15 minutes before an appointment is more preferred than being there only a minute before.

In addition to that trend we are also seeing another trend where distracted driving is causing some massive problems on the roads. This includes driving while texting, driving while on the cell phone (a very common offense for the last 6-7 years) and unchecked aggression towards other drivers and even cyclists. While the first and third portions of the offense have been included in the Flensburg point system, the second offense will have to require some investigating for although it is not common to do this on the roads, the trend is definitely rising.  Given the difference in dimensions of the roads between the USA and Germany despite some highways and Autobahnen being widened for safety purposes, one cannot afford to  commit these offenses unless they risk an accident and the consequences that follow (loss of driver’s license in accordance to the Flensburg point system, legal action and possible legal sanctions).
With the simplicity of the point system, as Ramsauer is planning, it will be more difficult to determine the degree of the traffic offense, let alone the consequences of the traffic offense. Instead the German government should look at other incentives to discourage traffic offenses and encourage safe driving habits. Reforming the Flensburg point system is definitely not a way to improve transparence, but increasing the point value for traffic offenses that have become more sophisticated (while at the same time, increase penalties for each offense and offer compulsory courses to encourage better driving habits) will definitely force drivers to think about their actions on the road and change their habits accordingly. After all, safe driving can also save lives, as there are more than 35,000 traffic fatalities in the European Union, a number that can be reduced even further.

While Ramsauer plan to open an online three-week forum about the changes in the Flensburg Point system beginning in May, he should not be surprised if he receives any criticism towards the reforms being carried out; especially from other countries that do not have such point systems, like the US but could use a similar system to crack down on traffic offenses, including distracted driving and aggression towards other drivers. Perhaps a pair of Flensburg points given to a driver for giving another driver the bird and three for texting while driving will give American drivers an incentive to think before taking action on the road. But before President Obama can think about introducing such a system, he must first watch the developments over in Germany before deciding whether it would make sense on America’s roads or not. With reforms becoming more confusing than simple, Ramsauer will have a rather difficult time to sell his reform plan to those, who like me believe that there are no problems with the Flensburg Point System and that it should be left as is.

The website with the forum on the Flensburg Point System Reform can be found here: www.punktereform.de.  (Available from 1 May on)

German Christmas Market Pics 4: Bayreuth

Overview with the Christmas tree Photo taken in December 2010

After putting up with the overcrowding visitors at one of the most popular Christmas markets in Germany, the next stop on the Christmas market tour is an hour to the north in a small and quiet town of Bayreuth. The capital of the region Oberfranken (Upper Franconia) is located not far from the source of the Main River, which slithers its way for over 400 kilometers down to the mouth of the Rhein River in the twin cities of Wiesbaden and Mainz (both are west of Frankfurt/Main).  Like Jena, Bayreuth is one of those forgotten cities where people pass through enroute to either Berlin or Munich along the North-South corridor A9, and there is a good reason for that. Bayreuth is one of the biggest sleeper towns in Germany with most of the recreational possibilities located in the Fichtel Mountain region to the north and east. Its population consists mainly of those ages 40 and up and even though its main attractions include the university and the places associated with Jean Paul and Richard Wagner, the town almost always sleeps early every night of the year. That means after 7:00pm, when the stores close their doors for the evening, the whole city center becomes silent in a fashion resembling Steven King’s “The Langoliers”- the silence when walking through its main street Maximilianstrasse is as eerie as it gets.

However, not all of Bayreuth is as silent as the airport where the passengers were stranded in, like in the film “The Langoliers.” There are two time periods in the year where the city of 70,000 inhabitants is the liveliest (that is, if you subtract the basketball season in the winter time and the professional basketball team BBC Bayreuth). The first one is in July, when the Wagner Festival takes place at the Festspielhaus, located on the hill overlooking most of the city. The second one is the Bayreuther Weihnachtsmarkt, which takes place the same time as the market in Nürnberg. Like the lighted garland which runs along the Maxmilianstrasse through the city center, the Christmas market consists of booths running along the main street beginning at the west end where the Hugendubel book store and the Karstadt department store are located and ending at Sternplatz on the east end, where the bar complex Winterdorf is located. While most of the booths close up early at 7:00pm every night, the Winterdorf part of the Christmas market is open until late into the night- far later than the Glühwein booths at the Christmas market in Erfurt, which really took me by surprise given the fact that Erfurt is three times as big as its Franconian counterpart and has a very stark contrast in terms of its liveliness as a whole. If one wants to try all the concoctions in the world, ranging from Feuerzangenbowle in a cup to Winter Dream, to Nürnberger Glühwein (see the attached links for the recipes of each) then Winterdorf is the place to be, where the female  bar attendants are nice looking and customer friendly, and the reunions with old friends and colleagues take place. I had the opportunity to meet up with my friends and former students at the Winterdorf, as I taught for two years at the university and they were my regular customers in all the English classes I taught there. It was a fun time as we talked about our lives in English and provided each other with some laughs and memories of the times together in the classroom, drinking all the beverages possible. Many of them I still keep in touch with through all forms of communication, as I made a difference in their lives during my two years in Bayreuth, and they made my stay a memorable one.

But aside from all the memories, another reason for nominating Bayreuth as one of the pics is its improvement with regards to city planning. In the past five years, the Maximilianstrasse was converted from an underground bus station with through traffic on the surface to one which presents some unique lighting and sculptural designs with two thirds of the street now being converted into a pedestrian and bicycle zone. The bus station is now located just off the bypass Hollernzollern Ring, which runs along the Main River. During the time I was in Bayreuth, much of the street was ripped apart for the beautification process, and most of the small shops at the Christmas market were relocated along the side streets. The entire stretch of shops between the west and east ends was completely blocked off. When I visited the market this time around, it was a whole different story. New lighting, new trees lining up along the streets, and the stretch of small shops was reestablished, making the Bayreuth Christmas one of the most hidden treasures that a person has to take a couple hours to see. While many students have claimed that Bayreuth has only Richard Wagner to offer and that the city should do more to improve its image, they are only half right. Little do they realize is that Bayreuth does offer one thing that will make their stay a wonderful one, which is its Christmas market. After all, it is the place where friends meet and/or reunite and for those without a partner, one might get lucky there….

And now the last stop on the Christmas Market tour, which requires a good 400km trip down along the Main River in one of the most popular metropolises in Europe, Frankfurt am Main. But before that, here are some recipes of beverage mixes worth trying for the holidays….

Feuerzangenbowle:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Feuerzangenbowle

Winter Dream:

http://www.channels.com/episodes/show/12678283/How-To-Make-The-Amaretto-Sunset

Glühwein (EN: Mulled or Spiced Wine):

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mulled_wine

Reference to the Langoliers:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Langoliers

More pics:

West end overlooking the book store and old town hall.
Winterdorf at Sternplatz on the east end of the market
Inside Winterdorf, where the drinks run wild and the guest are even wilder.
Ah yes, the Feuerzangenbowle!