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TRAFFIC

Fines and speed limits: Germany votes on new traffic rules

More space for cyclists, higher penalties for prohibited parking and maybe even a speed limit on the Autobahn? On Friday Germany's Federal Council will vote on numerous new regulations which will affect drivers and cyclists.

Fines and speed limits: Germany votes on new traffic rules
Berlin, a driver in Mitte parks their car in a cycle lane. Source: DPA

Transport Minister Andreas Scheuer (CSU) has proposed a whole package of reforms to the Road Traffic Act (StVO), which, amongst other things, aims to make city cycling safer and more appealing.

READ ALSO: What you need to know about changes to German driving laws in 2020

There are also plenty of requests for changes and additions from the Federal Council committees, including a proposal for a general speed limit of 130 km/h on the motorways.

Here is an overview of the most important proposed rules which have been put on the table.

Penalties for prohibited parking: The fines for parking in the second row, on sidewalks and bike paths, should increase from €15 to up to €100. This should also apply to stopping on protective strips for cyclists – for example, on bike paths that are painted on the road with a dashed white line. 

So far, cars have been allowed to stop here for up to three minutes. If someone is obstructed or endangered, something is broken, or if someone parks on the sidewalk or bike path for more than an hour, then they may incur a point on their driving license. 

Make an emergency lane and leave it free: Drivers have to make room for the emergency services and, in a traffic jam, they have to form a lane for emergency vehicles through the middle of the traffic.

Anyone who does not do so will be punished and could incur a driving ban in the future. It should also be possible to prosecute and punish people who drive through an emergency lane without permission. Such actions will be punished with fines of between €200 and €320, a one-month driving ban and two points on their license.

READ ALSO: Driving in Germany: What are the offences which can cost you points on your license?

Drivers form a lane for ermergency vehicles on the motorway. Source: DPA

New rules for bus lanes: Bus lanes in cities can already be used by taxis or cyclists. In the future, this right should be extended to cars carrying at least two passengers – the aim being  to make carpooling more attractive. This will ultimately be decided on a case by case basis. 

Protection for cyclists: The current rule is that drivers have to keep a safe distance when overtaking cyclists. In the future, this distance should be at least 1.50 meters in towns and 2 meters outside of towns. Trucks over 3.5 tons should only be allowed to drive at walking pace when turning right in towns, or face a fine of €70.

In dangerous places, a sign prohibiting cars and trucks from overtaking single-track vehicles should be put in place. A parking ban of up to eight meters should apply at intersections and junctions with bike paths to improve visibility.

Green arrow and other rights for cyclists: A green arrow allows you to turn right when a traffic light is red – but only if you firstly stop and are not endangering anyone.

In the future there will be a green arrow that only applies to cyclists. In addition to bicycle roads, there should also be entire cycling zones, where a  maximum of 30 km / h is allowed and bicycle traffic must not be endangered or obstructed.

The Federal Council will also vote on some more far-reaching amendments which have been proposed by its committees:

Speed limit: The Environment Committee has suggested that a general speed limit of 130 km/h should apply on motorways. The debate is continuing to gain traction with the Social Democrats (SPD) having mentioned Tempo 130 as a new initiative that it wants to discuss in the grand coalition.

But the Union is largely against it and the ADAC reneging on its strict “No” has also caused a stir. The Greens' push for the 130 km/h speed limit failed, as expected, in the Bundestag in October with most SPD MPs voting against it – as is customary in such opposition motions.

Resident Parking: The Federal Council's Transport Committee proposes to extend the price range for residents' parking permits in cities from €10.20 -30.70 to €10-240 per year. Scheuer is open to more localised leeway, but considers these proposals to be excessive. 

Further Proposals: There will also be a vote on proposals that e-scooter rental companies will need a permit in the future – including a plan for vehicle parking. Another proposal is for higher fines for parking without a parking ticket.

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DRIVING

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.

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