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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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. 😉

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)