Berlin horror crash prompts growing calls to ban SUVs from German cities

After four people were killed in Berlin on Friday evening, German politicians are demanding regulations to keep large SUVs (sport utility vehicles) out of inner cities.

Berlin horror crash prompts growing calls to ban SUVs from German cities
A vigil was set up for the victims of Friday's accident in which an SUV drove into a sidewalk, killing four people. Photo: DPA

“We need an upper limit for large SUVs in city centres,” said Oliver Krischner, the deputy chairman of the Green parliamentary group, to the Tagesspiegel on Monday. “The best solution would be a federal regulation that would allow cities to impose certain size limits.”

The debate comes after a 42-year-old man driving a heavy Porsche SUV killed four pedestrians, including a three-year-old boy, and injured five others, after veering onto a sidewalk near the intersection of Invalidenstraße and Ackerstraße in Berlin-Mitte.

Following the incident, several politicians and traffic experts called into question the rising popularity of the vehicles – characterized by their broad shape and several off-road features – in Germany, and if they should be better regulated.

This year over a million SUVs will be newly registered in the country for the first time, writes Tagesspiegel, and will make up over a third of the market share for cars.

“Cars need ever wider parking spaces in cities where space is becoming increasingly scarce,” said Krischer. “They are a particular danger to pedestrians and cyclists. There is an urgent need for a debate on how big the cars that drive around our inner cities should still be.”

Jürgen Resch, Managing Director of Deutsche Umwelthilfe (German Environment Aid), said that “easy to implement” measures to limit SUVs in cities should be taken.

There should be either a city toll imposed on large cars entering inner cities, a parking ban, or significantly increased parking fees for the vehicles, he told the newspaper.

A shock incident on Friday

Berlin police are still investigating the exact cause of Friday's accident, and have ruled out malintent, reported the Tagesspiegel.

It is thought that the driver could have had a medical emergency, such as an epileptic seizure according to the latest police findings, causing him to accelerate at a fast speed.

According to local residents, the SUV drove past a stationary cue of cars at the traffic lights very quickly before driving into the sidewalk.

The car bent a traffic light mast and several bollards, broke through a construction fence and only came to a halt on a building site.

On Saturday evening, around 500 people came to a vigil at the Invalidenstraße/Ackerstraße intersection. Also on Sunday, passers-by dropped candles, flowers and pictures at the scene of the accident. 

Following the accident, there are no more traffic lights at the intersection, and police controlled traffic as of Monday morning. 

The traffic lights will soon be repaired, and as of late Monday morning a temporary light was being set up where the accident occurred.

Are SUVs more dangerous than other cars?

The incident, which police plan to investigate further through creating a 3D model of the situation, sparked a mixed debate about whether SUVs themselves pose a risk to public safety.

 “We have to analyze how this terrible accident could have happened before we can draw any consequences,” said Traffic Senator Regine Günther of the Green Party.

The Berlin chapter of Alternative for Germany (AfD) tweeted that the incident was being co-opted by “car haters” for political purposes.

Others pointed out that different factors behind the accident, such as the SUV's speed, also needed to be examined.

“You can't just say: SUV is basically more dangerous than [other types of vehicles],” accident researcher Siegfried Brockmann from the Gesamtverband der Deutschen Versicherungswirtschaft (Association of the German Insurance Industry) told DPA.

Speed and the type of collision would have more influence than weight, he added. In the Berlin incident, however, the traffic light mast might have stopped a smaller car.

“Such tank-like cars don't belong in the city,” said Stephan von Dassel, district mayor of Berlin-Mitte at the weekend, adding that even a small driving mistake in one poses a danger to people’s lives.

Member comments

  1. SUVs are no more dangerous than any other vehicle. The driver is the responsible party. I personally find it easier to drive a large vehicle like a bus or truck than a car. Politicians scream every time anything goes wrong just to get attention. They should be ignored. Blaming the SUV is like blaming the gun when someone is killed. It ain’t the SUV and it ain’t the gun. It is the person handling them.

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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.