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Fines go up as Germans get tough on tailgaters

By GEOFF ZIEZULEWICZ | STARS AND STRIPES Published: May 4, 2006

As any American in Germany knows, driving on the autobahn is like a high-speed dance. Cars dart in and out of lanes, barely missing one another in a delicate act of high-speed accident avoidance.

But those drivers who tailgate too closely on the autobahn will face stiffer penalties because of a rise in fines that went into effect Monday.

Drivers who ride the bumper of the car in front of them can now expect a fine of up to 375 euros (nearly $470), a rise of nearly 100 euros from the previous maximum, said Sven Stadtrecher, a German police liaison officer to the U.S. military in Heidelberg.

Drivers can also lose their license for up to three months. Before the new regulations went into effect, a monthlong suspension was the maximum penalty, he said.

Fines will start at 35 euros for a speed of 80 kilometers an hour, Stadtrecher said, adding that drivers must keep a distance in meters that is equal to half their speed. For example, a driver going 100 kph on the autobahn must keep a distance of at least 50 meters (165 feet). Fines and penalties will increase at higher speeds and will also take into account how long the driver tailgates.

Stadtrecher said that a good way to keep measurement is by the black-and-white posts on the side of the road, which are spaced about 50 meters apart.

“We think [the bad driving] is going to change because of the fines and because people can lose their license,” he said.

U.S. Army Europe spokesman Bruce Anderson said that military personnel who are caught tailgating might also have penalty points assessed against their driver’s license by commanders.

One particular incident on the A5 a couple of years ago triggered the recent law change, Stadtrecher said.

A woman who had a small child in her car was driving toward Heidelberg early one morning, he said. She was in the left lane and was going about 125 kph.

Another driver, going about 250 kph, came up behind her and flashed his headlights, a signal for the woman to move out of the passing lane, Stadtrecher said.

The woman became flummoxed, veered off the road and struck a tree, killing all occupants inside the vehicle.

German society took sides, with some arguing that she shouldn’t have been in the left lane, while others said the second driver should have slowed down.

The new tailgating penalties will hopefully curb and prevent such occurrences in the future, he said.

“We expect this behavior to change a little bit,” Stadtrecher said.

A revision to a German law that will increase the penalty when a driver goes through a rail crossing when the warning lights are blinking also recently went into effect, according to USAREUR officials.

Such an infraction will cost 150 euros and loss of driving privileges for a month. Those who somehow find a way around a lowered rail crossing gate will have to pay 450 euros and will lose their license for three months.


Other tailgating laws …

England

In England, there is no set distance from a car’s rear bumper that constitutes a tailgating zone, according to local police. However, if police constables spot a driver following too close, they can cite the offender for “driving without due care and caution,” or in more serious cases, “inconsiderate and careless driving.”

Though penalties vary depending on the case and whether the driver fights the charge, a common punishment is a standard traffic ticket, which hits offenders with a fine of 80 pounds (about $145) and three points on their license.

Italy

In Italy, tailgating, though illegal, is quite the norm, and many show little tolerance for those who get in their way. Flashing headlights are a signal to move.

The driving distance between vehicles depends on motorists’ speeds, but a general rule-of- thumb is that drivers should leave about 10 meters of space for every 10 kilometers of speed.

Police in Italy have the power to levy and collect on-the-spot fines, which, depending on the infraction, can range from double-digits to thousands of euros.

— Stars and Stripes

Fines for tailgating on German roads went up on May 1.
MICHAEL ABRAMS / S&S

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