Germany: Police catch 3,100 drivers on their cell phones in one day
German authorities consider texting while driving to be equivalent to driving while over twice the legal limit of alcohol consumption. Yet the fine is only €60.
German police held nationwide spot checks on Thursday, and found 3,100 drivers with cell phones in their hands in just a matter of hours. They also logged over 9,400 cases of distracted driving.
Some 11,000 officers stopped around 51,000 motorists in one day, including truck drivers and motorcyclists. Other causes of distracted driving that the officers found were lighting cigarettes, using navigational systems, and listening to loud music.
Germany currently does not register distracted driving as one of its formal causes of accidents, meaning there are no relevant domestic statistics. However, international studies have suggested that distracted driving is the cause of half of traffic accidents. Dozens of people are killed every year, although the exact amount of deaths may be far higher — there are many accidents where phone use is not documented or discovered.
Authorities in Germany have compared driving while texting or making a phone call to having twice the legal limit of alcohol in one's system.
Despite this, the consequence for using a phone while driving is a single point on the offender's license and a €60 fine — that's a penalty roughly equivalent to a moderately severe speeding infraction.
Police also warned that distracted cycling and walking — whilst looking down at one's smartphone — is also a major safety risk.
The only European country without a general speed limit on most parts of its highways, Germany has an excellent system of motorways. They are generally well-maintained, inviting you to explore them. The minimum age for obtaining a driver's license used with a legal guardian present in Germany is 17. An unrestricted car driver's license can be granted at age 18.
According to statistics by ADAC, Germany's national automobile association, traffic jams increased by around 15 percent in 2016 as compared to the previous year. That's a lot for a relatively small country. The increase resulted from both more cars on the highway, and more construction sites. So brace yourself for more time and stress in the car, especially around big cities.
Even when you think you're soaring down the autobahn, you may get the distinct impression it's still not fast enough. Some German drivers may drive right up behind you and try to "push" you over. They may even flash their headlights to rattle your nerves. You aren't supposed to block the "fast" lane — the aim being to only use it for passing. But don't let pushy drivers bully you!
Watch out for speed cameras! They are used widely in Germany, from the autobahn to inner city areas. These box-shaped devices are installed next to the road, and will often catch you unawares. Should you be driving over the speed limit, a ticket will be sent to your house, complete with a picture of you at the wheel and the license plate confirming your offense.
Holding a cell phone in your hand while driving is an absolute no-no. If caught, you could be fined 100 euros ($124) and get a one-point penalty against your driver's license. Penalties spike up if you cause an accident, and you may have your license revoked. Fines were raised in 2017. Investing in a hands-free car kit is smarter. Penalties also apply to bicyclists using their cell phones.
The same thing goes for not making way for emergency vehicles. Once traffic jams up, you are required to create a lane for ambulances and police, even before you see the flashing lights behind you. If not, you could be fined at least 200 euros (around $250) and get points on your license. The emergency lane is always between the far left and the rest of the lanes.
You are also required to set up a warning signal should you break down or have an accident. This means placing an orange metal triangle on the road, donning a fluorescent jacket, both of which you must have in your car. You must also have a first-aid kit stored in your vehicle.
In Germany, there's zero tolerance for beginners, as well as for professional drivers. There's a 0.05 percent blood alcohol content (BAC) limit to driving under the influence. Bicyclists may not exceed 0.16 percent. Penalties start at a €500 ($623) fine, points off your license and even a one-month license suspension. Best bet: don't drink and drive!
Snow tires are required once streets become slick with slush, ice or snow. In Germany, the rule of thumb is that this can occur anytime between October and Easter. Should you not have snow tires installed on your car and still drive on slippery streets, you could be fined and have points taken off your license. Without proper snow tires, your insurance may also not cover an accident.
To navigate both the German autobahn and city streets, the best approach is a zen one: take your time and don't let yourself get frazzled. Besides, with an expansive train and public transportation system in the country, you might not even want to hop into your car, but board a train and put up your feet!