Tolls definitely coming, say party leaders

Plans to charge users of German motorways have taken their own toll on the politicians who are pushing it through, but they refuse to back down.

Tolls definitely coming, say party leaders
Photo: DPA

"One has to advise that now this tiresome summer theatre and cacophony has to come to an end and we start concentrating on the difficult parliamentary work," said Andreas Scheuer, head of the Christian Social Union (CSU), sister party to Angela Merkel's ruling Christian Democrats (CDU), in an interview with news agency dpa.

Federal Transportation Minister Alexander Dobrindt (CSU) has already put forward a concept outlining how the new tolls will work.

"We will now have to co-ordinate between the federal ministers and hope to develop the bill quickly, just as we have in past decades on many other political issues," he said.

Tolls have faced a lot of opposition, particularly from North Rhein-Westphalia, Baden-Württemberg and Rheinland-Palitinate, which see a lot of road traffic thanks to their borders with other countries and fear the change will have an overall negative effect on their regional economies.

"We will of course have an open and transparent dialogue," said Scheuer. "The car toll is a coalition project. All three leaders of the ruling parties have signed on to and therefore the toll is happening."

The head of the Institute of Economic Research (IW), Michael Hüther, said tolls should be subject to daily times and congestion so as to not overburden commuters. He told the Bild paper that there should be an option for discounted subscription to the new tolls.

The original plan was to have the tolls on all German streets. The CSU has now amended that to all motorways and federal roads, according to information published in the Augsburger Allgemeine on Thursday, though Dobrindt would not confirm this to dpa.

"We are currently working on a draft of the law based on the proposed concept," he said.

Other changes could be coming to German roads as well. Political sources told daily Die Welt on Thursday that federal Finance Minister Wolfgang Schäuble is looking to change the ownership the roads.

Under the current law, the federal government owns the motorways built under the Third Reich as well as their trunk roads. The states manage and maintain the roads under contract from the state.

With the proposed change, the states can be relieved of that responsibility, said the paper, leaving the federal government free to engage private investors to take over the task.

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COMPARE: Which countries in Europe have the strictest drink-drive limits?

Certain countries around Europe have stricter policies than others regarding drinking and driving and harsher punishments for those caught exceeding legal limits. Here's what you need to know.

COMPARE: Which countries in Europe have the strictest drink-drive limits?

European countries set their own driving laws and speed limits and it’s no different when it comes to legal drink-drive limits.

While the safest thing to do of course, is to drink no alcohol at all before driving it is useful to know what the limit is in the country you are driving in whether as a tourist or as someone who frequently crosses European borders by car for work.

While some countries, such as the Czech Republic, have zero tolerance for drinking and driving, in others people are allowed to have a certain amount of alcohol in their blood while driving.

However, not only can the rules be different between countries, they are usually stricter for commercial (or bus) drivers and novice drivers as well. Besides that, the blood alcohol concentration (BAC) is extremely difficult to estimate, so the old “one beer is ok” standards no longer safely apply.

In the end, the only way to be safe is to avoid consuming alcohol before driving. Any amount will slow reflexes while giving you dangerous higher confidence. According to the UK’s National Health Service, there is no ‘safe’ drinking level.

How is blood alcohol level measured?

European countries mostly measure blood alcohol concentration (BAC), which is the amount, in grams, of alcohol in one litre of blood.

After alcohol is consumed, it will be absorbed fast from the stomach and intestine to the bloodstream. There, it is broken down by a liver-produced enzyme.

Each person will absorb alcohol at their own speed, and the enzyme will also work differently in each one.

The BAC will depend on these metabolic particularities as well as body weight, gender, how fast and how much the person drank, their age and whether or not (and how much) they have eaten, and even stress levels at the time.

In other words there are many things that may influence the alcohol concentration.

The only way to effectively measure BAC is by taking a blood test – even a breathalyser test could show different results. Still, this is the measuring unit used by many EU countries when deciding on drinking limits and penalties for drivers.

Here are the latest rules and limits.

Austria, Denmark, France, Germany, Italy, Spain, Switzerland, Greece, Netherlands, Belgium, Portugal, and Croatia

In most EU countries, the limit is just under 0.5g/l for standard drivers (stricter rules could be in place for novice or professional drivers).

This could be exceeded by a man with average weight who consumed one pint of beer (containing 4.2% alcohol) and two glasses of red wine (13% alcohol) while having dinner.

If a person is caught driving with more than 0.8g/l of blood alcohol content in Austria, they can pay fines of up to € 5,900 and to have their license taken for one year in some cases.

In France, if BAC exceeds 0.8g/l, they could end up with a 2-year jail sentence and a € 4,500 fine. In Germany, penalties start at a € 500 fine and a one-month license suspension. In Greece, drunk drivers could face up to years of imprisonment.

In Denmark, first time offenders are likely to have their licences suspended and could be required to go on self-paid alcohol and traffic courses if BAC levels are low. Italy has penalties that vary depending on whether or not the driver has caused an accident and could lead to car apprehension, fines and prison sentences.

In Spain, going over a 1.2g/l limit is a criminal offence that could lead to imprisonment sentences and hefty fines. 

Norway, Sweden, and Poland

In Norway, Sweden, and Poland, the limit for standard drivers is 0.2g/l. It could take a woman with average weight one standard drink, or one can of beer, to reach that level.

Penalties in Norway can start at a one month salary fine and a criminal record. In Poland, fines are expected if you surpass the limit, and you could also have your license revoked and receive a prison sentence.

Czech Republic, Hungary, and Slovakia

The Czech Republic, Hungary, and Slovakia have one of the strictest rules in the European Union. There is no allowed limit of alcohol in the blood for drivers.

In the Czech Republic, fines start at € 100 to € 800, and a driving ban of up to one year can be instituted for those driving with a 0.3 BAC level. However, the harshest penalties come if the BAC level surpasses 1 g/l, fines can be up to € 2,000, and drivers could be banned from driving for 10 years and imprisoned for up to three years.

This is intended to be a general guide and reference. Check the current and specific rules in the country you plan to travel to. The easiest and best way to be safe and protect yourself and others is to refrain from drinking alcohol and driving.