Interesting Facts About Germany: Teddy on the Road- the History of the Gatso

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While travelling along the highway visiting some friends in Leipzig a while back, I had a chance to listen to the German news and the traffic report, where they report accidents, speeding and even broken-down vehicles when I was taken aback from a phone call made to a radio station that, like Leipzig, is located in the same German state of Saxony. With my passenger next to me we were snickering when we heard a typical Saxon living near the Ore Mountains (Erzgebirge) calling in by saying the following:

“Auf der B 175 in Glauchau gibt es einen Teddy auf der Fahrbahn zwischen Jerisau und Gesau.”  (EN: On Highway 175, there is a Teddy on the road between Jerisau and Gesau in the City of Glauchau)

A Teddy? My first reaction to my passenger, who is also from the region but nearer to Stollberg was one for the ages: “A Teddy as in Teddy Bear?”

A burst of laughter followed. 🙂

Looking at the pictures very carefully, can you envision a Teddy on the highway? Regardless of size?

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It was at that time that I realized the importance of learning a foreign language because you can pick up a lot of local words that you will almost never find in a dictionary. This especially applies to Germany, for there are several regions speaking different dialects and using different words. In this case, it was Saxon German (Sächsisch Deutsch) and even more so, Erzgebirgisch.

My colleague, after a couple minutes of a good laugh, later explained that a Teddy was in reference to the Blitzer. The Blitzer, translated into English, means a simple photo radar gun/device or traffic control camera. In British, it is nicknamed the Gatso.  Can you imagine Gatso the Teddy using a radar gun to catch speeders, as this is the purpose?

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Even with the advancement of technology, where cameras are becoming smaller and easier to use, combining it with the fact that the bear is “mounted” to an electrical circuit box and the eyes are a but too small for the camera lens, this is a tall order to see such a furry creature take pictures of cars, their plates and the drivers.

However, this device can do the trick! 🙂

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For over 60 years, the German Gatso has been responsible for controlling the way people speed on streets and major highways. According to Article 3 of the German Traffic Control Laws (Strassenverkehrsordnung), the responsibility for these devices falls to the law enforcement authorities on the state and federal levels. All it takes is a yellow flash when driving too fast and a ticket from the local police with the license plate and a facial reaction which helps police identify and fine the speeder, while at the same time, make the speeder feel exceptionally embarassed by looking at not only the facial reaction at the time of the incident, but also the amount of money owed for it.

In some cases, you receive a Flensburg point for the incident (see the story behind it here.)  The first Blitzer was introduced in Essen in 1956 and since then, one can find one for every 30 kilometers on average in the country; one for every kilometer on average in the city.  One can find them everywhere: on sidewalks, hidden in trees and railings, as bins on the street or at bus stops, and sometimes as living beings as seen below:

Laser guns and squad car cameras were later introduced with Düsseldorf being the first city to use them in addition to the Blitzer in 1959. Since the 1990s, both the eastern and western halves of Germany have reported such Blitzers on the highways by having radio teams track them down and report them on air. However, other drivers exercise the right to call in if they see one. The purpose there is to inform the driver where they can take their picture- and pay a hefty price for it.

Anybody wanting to try this better have a good explanation for the judge……   😉

Traffic cameras have been used in the US and UK, but it is rarer in the former. Arguments against the use of the Gatso are the question of effectiveness in detecting the speeders- especially when radar jammers are used by speeders while those going only 2-3 miles per hour are caught. This is where the accuracy question comes in. Furthermore, debates over liability for the use of the equipment for traffic combined with the unwillingness of speeders to pay due to protest has made the Gatso very unpopular. In fact, cities that have introduced these cameras were forced to take them down after a couple years due to claims of them collecting revenue instead of providing safety for the roads. To sum up, there are no laws that enforce the use of Gatsos unless on the local levels, but these are feeble- opposite of the laws in the Bundesrepublik.

Blitzers have been used not only on German Autobahns, but also in areas of communities, where speeding and even car accidents have been reported by law enforcement authorities. They are also useful for construction areas where traffic is heavy. Blitzermarathons are also popular, for on weekends and holidays, these cameras are used extensively by the police to control the speeding on the streets, and with lots of success. Aside from vehicle inspections and pulling over traffic violators, Gatsos have generated as much revenue and reputation as law enforcement itself- to protect the drivers and encourage proper driving habits, but also to protect others on the highway affected by the driver.

And so keeping this in mind, I would like to offer this advice to all drivers in Germany and other neighboring European countries: when you hear about a Teddy, Blitzer, Gatso or camera on the highway you’re travelling, or see one in the vicinity, check your odometer, lead up from the pedal, and respect the grey bear! After all, unlike real bears, like grizzlies, blacks and polars, they can save your life. Plus they make for a great (but cheap) photo opportunity with a professional photographer- but not from the guy in the blue and white suit with a police squad car or the people from Flensburg. 😉

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Have you hugged your Teddy, lately? 😉

 

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Gatso is short for the Gastometer BV, a device that was invented by Dutch racecar driver Maurice Gasonides in 1958 but for the purpose of monitoring his speeding, not for controlling it. The first devices were introduced in the Netherlands and  British Commonwealth in the 1960s where film was used. It was later advanced to use ultra-red lighting in the 1980s. It went digital in the 1990s where data from the photos can be taken through the contral computing system at the police precinct and printed out for use. More information can be found here

 

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Will Speed for Free Food!

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Photo courtesy of the Clearwater (Kansas) Police Department

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If you enjoy speeding and disregarding signs, let alone give the police and the Kraftfahrtbundesamt (Driver’s Office) in Flensburg (Germany) a headache, then this article is for you. Regardless of whether you are in Germany or the US, people love to speed and will stop at nothing to ensure that they are at least 20 km/h over the limit. In Germany, we have the blitzer machines, where drivers and their car license plates are photographed, and after a brief process of determining how many Flensburg Points  one receives and how much money one has to pay, the driver gets the check in the mail. Many people have found creative ways of manipulating these blitzer machines, like this one below:

 

Well, not quite. 🙂 But people destesting these machines have done a fabulous job manipulating them, which includes putting recycling cans over them:

 

In the US, we do not have such devices- although having them would solve all our infrastructural woes and fix our deficit in an instant- but we do have radar devices, which tracks the speed of drivers especially when going through communities, and this story shows that even some drivers love to pull a good joke. In Clearwater, Kansas, located 10 miles southwest of Wichita, police officials, in particular Chief Garcia, received a laugh of the century, as one of the drivers placed a makeshift sign next to the radar device, challenging the drivers to speed as fast as possible in order to win a prize, as shown in the picture at the beginning! 🙂 The police is looking for someone who gave the chief the biggest laugh in his career so that the driver can be “rewarded” with a free meal.

Can you imagine someone seeing this in Germany? Or Europe?

It is known that Germans have a dry sense of humor with most of them taking this as way too seriously- pending on which part of Germany you’re living in. However, aside the humor behind this picture that even some of the people at the Flensburg office would take when seeing this, the true purpose behind this radar device is the same as the German blitzer: to save lives and keep the roads safe for others to use.  Therefore, even though some of us may take this as a dose of laughter to start off the day on the road, even in Germany, the word to the wise is “Don’t, unless you want to set a new record for the highest number of Flensburg points you receive when getting caught!”

In other words, enjoy the laugh but drive carefully. 😉

For those wanting to know about Germany’s Flensburg Point system, the author wrote about this theme a few years ago as it was undergoing some reforms. More on that here.

 

Here’s a question for those who love driving:

What were some other acts drivers have done in order to get away with breaking the rules of the road, regardless of whether it was in the US, Germany or Europe? We love to hear them. Put your stories here in the comment section, or in the Flensburg Files’ facebook page, which you can access here

 

Special thanks to the Clearwater Police Department of Clearwater, Kansas for allowing use of this photo. It did provide a good laugh over here and when others read this, they will have a great start while on the road travelling to work. 😉