The Dos and Don’ts of Biking in Germany

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It’s that time of year. The shovels are being put away. The chains are oiled. The brakes are checked. And now with the sun coming out, the bike trails and streets are filling up with a pair of wheels, ridden by people with helmets; some of whom are towing trailers with children while others are carrying baskets full of food and other supplies.

It’s spring time, and with it, the season of cycling. And while biking is the best alternative to the car, like the car, German laws apply to bikers to ensure that both the cyclist and the others are safe.  In Germany, there are strict guidelines pertaining to bike safety that apply. Those violating the laws are subject to fines and penalties. In serious cases, one can get a point from the German Department of Vehicle Registration in Flensburg (Kraftfahrtbundesamt- KbA) and possible a ban from driving (or in this case, biking).

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To give you an idea of what to be aware of, here are some examples of guidelines to pay attention to:

  1. Thou must have proper lighting.  What is meant by that is that you must have a functioning head light and tail light- operated by a battery or a dynamo (which activates the lighting as you pedal your bike). In addition, you must have reflectors (nicknamed in German as cat’s eyes) on your bike pedals, spokes, tire rim as well as your head- and tail lights. Some of these are integrated in the lighting already. All new bikes have these components installed already.  However, for used bikes, they are a must.  Penalty for having improper lighting, including those that don’t work is 20 Euros per part. That means if you have absolutely no lighting or reflectors on your bike, you could face up to 80 Euros! In other words, light it up and make it work for your bike. 😉
  2. Thou must have functioning brakes.  Here, both the front and rear brakes must be present and in working condition. That is very obvious when you have to use them for unexpected circumstances. No brakes and you could break someone.  No brakes and it’s 20 Euros- sometimes per brake. So brake it in and have it ready for use.  🙂
  3. Thou must have a functioning bell or horn. Imagine you are biking and you encounter a person listening to music and not paying attention. Hollaring and screaming don’t help. But the bell does! The louder, the better and the safer both parties are. Without the bell, you could have 20 Euros sucked out of your wallet. That’s equivalent to 10 packages of Ricola cough drops, if you think about it. Save your voice and ring a bell, will ya? 😉

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While the Danes are really good about alerting their bikers to pay attention, as you can see in this picture, sometimes we just need to learn common sense when it comes to where and how you bike. We all know that showing off and even overloading your bike can give you some problems- both with the bike as well as with the law. For instance:

4. Biking on a sidewalk (Bürgersteig) is definitely NOT allowed, unless you can prove  that you are a child.

While some cyclists have tried imitating a seven-year old in   front of a police officer, they were greeted with a pair of high-fives in cash- equivalent to 10 European clams. 😉  If you nearly cause an accident, it’s 15 and if it  actually happens, it’s 25 plus a date with Judge Marilyn Milian from the People’s Court. And you can imagine how that would turn out, as you can see in the clip below:

So don’t do that.

5. Biking with no hands on the handlebar:

If you want to impress a girl, you might as  well impress Mr. T, whose reaction will come down to “Gimme Five, fool!” Do you want to give the man in a police uniform a high-five? If so, I guess you won’t be  having a date with that girl after all. 😉

6. Also not cool is biking through a traffic light when it is on red.

One has to remember,  when you have red, then cross traffic does NOT stop for you- not even the moose, like in the film below:

Here is where the lovely Danes at the KbA will get you. If caught alone, it’s 60 Euros            plus a point on your record. If you nearly cause an accident- meaning other drivers            have to slam on their brakes and swear at you (YOU SON OF A B****!) it’s 100 and a            point. Yet if you cause an accident, it’s 120 Euros, a point and you get to meet Judge            Marilyn Milian of the People’s Court- again. You can imagine what her reaction                  would look like:

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And lastly, for the rules of the road, you should have all eyes on the road. They are antennas- they detect everything right away- some of which can even save your life. Ears are good for listening to anything coming your way. That means without the two, you’re bound to go down like the rest of the fools trying to break the rules. For instance:

7. We’re in Germany and we are to the Right.

To the right is both a literal phrase and also a figurative. Just ask Kim Darby whose character Maddy Ross used it in True Grit in 1969. To the right means when traveling down a street with marked bike lanes, you go with traffic- meaning on the right. To attempt to pull a Mr. Bean and bike on the left will result in a sequel to Planes, Trains        and Automobiles (see the scene from the original below) plus 20 Euros to watch the sequel, produced by a police officer leacturing you about it,  when it  is done. 😉 Oh and by the way….. doing the same procedure while on a one- way street means an additional 15 to the 20 you owe them- 35 in total!

8. The No-Bike Zone.

Just as bad as biking the wrong way is biking in a pedestrian zone, or as I call it, The No Bike Zone. Guarded by the Klingons dressed in a police uniform, if you enter this zone, stop! Go back and find another way! Otherwise, you might want to learn a few words of Klingon, like the lady at the Volkshochschule in Vienna (Austria). You’ll need it to pay         them 20 Euros for the fine.

9. E-biking is not cool!

We’ve seen a lot of E-bikes on the trails; but we’ve seen the other version of E-bikes, meaning people listening to music on their iPhones or biking while talking or even texting. If you think you can multi- task, remember these German words: “Es geht nicht!”  If you bike and listen to music, it is 10 Euros, however, if you have your iPhone or Smartphone in your hand even, it is 55 Euros. Why? Because texting and biking can kill a friendship. Communication is key! Put the phone down!

10. Put the beer down!

While biking with a Radler (English is Shandy) is a common German culture associated with biking, too much shandy is not a good thing. Just like with drinking and driving, drinking and riding will cost you dearly. Pending on the severity and the number of related offenses, one will face at least 2 Flensburg Points, hundreds (or thousands) of Euros in fines, a ban from the road, a seminar on how to properly behave on the road,      and finally, a lecture of a   lifetime in court. And you can imagine how this                             would turn out:

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If you follow these ten commandments, you will be able to govern the bike trails properly and enjoy a tour around the lake or in the city, pending on how you bike and where you go. Biking is a priviledge that reaps rewards when you are out there. However, as there are many people around, the world does not evolve around you as the biker, but the others as well. So when you follow the rules of the road, the world will be yours and you will have the best time cycling on Germany’s bike trails, be it on the bike motorway, in the city, in the country side or wherever you may go this spring and summer.  So get out there and happy trails until we meet again. B-)

 

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Move over or fork it over! New laws for Rettungsgassen on German highways

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An example of a Rettungsgasse on Motorway 659 as an Ambulance makes way toward the accident scene. Photo taken by LosHawlos for wikicommons

New Fines plus Points in Flensburg and Driving Ban to be enforced for blocking emergency lane on German highways. Even for driving and using E-devices. 

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BERLIN/FLENSBURG-  Many people travelling in Germany probably don’t know the term Rettungsgasse, especially if they hear this word on the radio while listening to the traffic report and at the same time, travelling to their destination. A Rettungsgasse is an emergency lane that is created by travellers on German highways, so that police, rescue crews and paramedics can travel to the scene of the accident as quickly as possible. This emergency lane is created when an accident occurs, causing traffic on the highway to come to a halt. While this practice is used mostly on motorways (Autobahn), expressways (Schnellstrasse) and other roads that have multiple lanes, many people don’t know how to create one. An illustration below provides you with some steps on how to create one (hint: Spur is German for lane)

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Image courtesy of Inga Jablonsky

To sum up, drivers are to move off to the side as far as possible to allow passage and save the lives of those affected by an accident.

Yet many drivers are unaware of the fact that when there is a jam on the highway and cars in front of them and crews travelling with blue lights and a Martin horn, that they should move off to the side and let them pass. For a Martin horn, it sounds like this:

In some cases, drivers have blocked Rettungsgassen on the highways, thus hindering crews from going to the scene.

Some of whom, as seen in the video above, have used Smartphones and mobile phones to photograph or even film the scene of the accident.

Effective immediately, it will cost drivers doing one of the two or both more than just money. The German Ministry of Transportation and Digital Infrastructure (BMVDI) has passed a pair of much stricter laws involving both traffic violations.  For blocking the Rettungsgasse and not paying attention to the sirens of the police and rescue crews, one can expect a fine of at least 200 Euros and two points will be added to the driver’s record at the Office of Vehicle Registration in Flensburg. According to the laws in Flensburg passed in 2014, eight or more points means revokation of the driver’s license and possibly retraining on how to drive at the expense of the offender.

In this case, being a spectator, texting while not paying attention or just intentionally blocking the emergency lane will be very costly.  Not building a Rettungsgasse constitutes a fine of 200 Euros plus two Flensburg points. Not building this important lane when the crews go to the scene means 240 Euros, two points and a one month ban from driving.  Blocking the lane while causing damage and endangering lives means a fine of 320 Euros, two or more Flensburg Points, driving ban PLUS confiscation of the vehicle and other items as evidence to be used in court AND possible prosecution!

If you use your electronic device, regardless of whether you are driving or in a traffic jam and/or forming a Rettungsgasse, you can expect a 100 Euro fine and a Flensburg point. Endangering others constitute 150 Euros and two points. Causing damage means 200 Euros, two points and a one month driving ban!

For both offences, the sanctions have increased by more than two-fold as there have been more and more reports of drivers blocking the Rettungsgasse both intentionally as well as unintentionally, many of whom had been either texting or using devices to film accidents. Even doing the latter alone has caused numerous accidents and fatalities in general. According to studies by the Center for Disease Control, an average of nine people die every day from accidents caused by distracted driving, over 1000 are injured.

But the sharp increase in fines and sanctions for blocking the Rettungsgasse comes as officials are cracking down on drivers who do not create these lanes during traffic jams, even if no accidents are reported; most of the traffic jams occur on heavily travelled motorways in the western half of Germany as well as in large cities. This includes the Motorways 3, 6, 7, and 9, as well as motorways and highways in cities, like Munich, Berlin, Frankfurt and Hamburg.  But even more so, the introduction of tougher sanctions comes in response to the freak bus accident and fire last year near Münchberg in northern Bavaria, along the Motorway 9. Eighteen people died, including the driver, who rescued as many passengers as possible before succumbing to the smoke and burns. According to reports, drivers blocked the Rettungsgasse and took pictures with their phones, thus hampering rescue efforts.

With the introduction of tougher measures, drivers will be forced to pay more attention to the road and not with their electronic devices. Especially when traffic jams occur on the multi-lane highways will drivers be forced to assume the worse and create the emergency lane to allow for rescue crews to get to the scene as quickly as possible.

As a county engineer in Iowa once said: These laws are there to save lives.  It is hoped that these measures will get the driver to think about the lives of others at risk while driving.

So please, pay attention, put the phone down and please the people in front of you. You will do yourself and them a big favor and save yourself some money, time and your car. Thank you.

 

 

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Emergency lane laws are similar to the ones in the United States, Canada and other countries. The Move-over Laws that have been enacted since the 1990s require drivers to move over one lane to provide a lane’s width of space for people at the scene of an accident, car repair or any other sort of emergency. Failure to comply can result in the loss of driving privileges for at least a half year in many areas plus fines in the hundreds.

Drivers not originating from Germany but are caught by police for traffic violation are asked to either pay up at the scene where they are pulled over, or they receive a letter addressed to their home countries requesting the fine to be paid. In these cases the point system is usually not enforced. In worst cases, they may be taken into custody at the police precinct.

 

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Interesting Facts about Germany: Teddy on the Road- the History of the Gatso

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While travelling along the highway visiting some friends in Leipzig a while back, I had a chance to listen to the German news and the traffic report, where they report accidents, speeding and even broken-down vehicles when I was taken aback from a phone call made to a radio station that, like Leipzig, is located in the same German state of Saxony. With my passenger next to me we were snickering when we heard a typical Saxon living near the Ore Mountains (Erzgebirge) calling in by saying the following:

“Auf der B 175 in Glauchau gibt es einen Teddy auf der Fahrbahn zwischen Jerisau und Gesau.”  (EN: On Highway 175, there is a Teddy on the road between Jerisau and Gesau in the City of Glauchau)

A Teddy? My first reaction to my passenger, who is also from the region but nearer to Stollberg was one for the ages: “A Teddy as in Teddy Bear?”

A burst of laughter followed. 🙂

Looking at the pictures very carefully, can you envision a Teddy on the highway? Regardless of size?

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It was at that time that I realized the importance of learning a foreign language because you can pick up a lot of local words that you will almost never find in a dictionary. This especially applies to Germany, for there are several regions speaking different dialects and using different words. In this case, it was Saxon German (Sächsisch Deutsch) and even more so, Erzgebirgisch.

My colleague, after a couple minutes of a good laugh, later explained that a Teddy was in reference to the Blitzer. The Blitzer, translated into English, means a simple photo radar gun/device or traffic control camera. In British, it is nicknamed the Gatso.  Can you imagine Gatso the Teddy using a radar gun to catch speeders, as this is the purpose?

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Even with the advancement of technology, where cameras are becoming smaller and easier to use, combining it with the fact that the bear is “mounted” to an electrical circuit box and the eyes are a but too small for the camera lens, this is a tall order to see such a furry creature take pictures of cars, their plates and the drivers.

However, this device can do the trick! 🙂

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For over 60 years, the German Gatso has been responsible for controlling the way people speed on streets and major highways. According to Article 3 of the German Traffic Control Laws (Strassenverkehrsordnung), the responsibility for these devices falls to the law enforcement authorities on the state and federal levels. All it takes is a yellow flash when driving too fast and a ticket from the local police with the license plate and a facial reaction which helps police identify and fine the speeder, while at the same time, make the speeder feel exceptionally embarassed by looking at not only the facial reaction at the time of the incident, but also the amount of money owed for it.

In some cases, you receive a Flensburg point for the incident (see the story behind it here.)  The first Blitzer was introduced in Essen in 1956 and since then, one can find one for every 30 kilometers on average in the country; one for every kilometer on average in the city.  One can find them everywhere: on sidewalks, hidden in trees and railings, as bins on the street or at bus stops, and sometimes as living beings as seen below:

Laser guns and squad car cameras were later introduced with Düsseldorf being the first city to use them in addition to the Blitzer in 1959. Since the 1990s, both the eastern and western halves of Germany have reported such Blitzers on the highways by having radio teams track them down and report them on air. However, other drivers exercise the right to call in if they see one. The purpose there is to inform the driver where they can take their picture- and pay a hefty price for it.

Anybody wanting to try this better have a good explanation for the judge……   😉

Traffic cameras have been used in the US and UK, but it is rarer in the former. Arguments against the use of the Gatso are the question of effectiveness in detecting the speeders- especially when radar jammers are used by speeders while those going only 2-3 miles per hour are caught. This is where the accuracy question comes in. Furthermore, debates over liability for the use of the equipment for traffic combined with the unwillingness of speeders to pay due to protest has made the Gatso very unpopular. In fact, cities that have introduced these cameras were forced to take them down after a couple years due to claims of them collecting revenue instead of providing safety for the roads. To sum up, there are no laws that enforce the use of Gatsos unless on the local levels, but these are feeble- opposite of the laws in the Bundesrepublik.

Blitzers have been used not only on German Autobahns, but also in areas of communities, where speeding and even car accidents have been reported by law enforcement authorities. They are also useful for construction areas where traffic is heavy. Blitzermarathons are also popular, for on weekends and holidays, these cameras are used extensively by the police to control the speeding on the streets, and with lots of success. Aside from vehicle inspections and pulling over traffic violators, Gatsos have generated as much revenue and reputation as law enforcement itself- to protect the drivers and encourage proper driving habits, but also to protect others on the highway affected by the driver.

And so keeping this in mind, I would like to offer this advice to all drivers in Germany and other neighboring European countries: when you hear about a Teddy, Blitzer, Gatso or camera on the highway you’re travelling, or see one in the vicinity, check your odometer, lead up from the pedal, and respect the grey bear! After all, unlike real bears, like grizzlies, blacks and polars, they can save your life. Plus they make for a great (but cheap) photo opportunity with a professional photographer- but not from the guy in the blue and white suit with a police squad car or the people from Flensburg. 😉

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Have you hugged your Teddy, lately? 😉

 

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Gatso is short for the Gastometer BV, a device that was invented by Dutch racecar driver Maurice Gasonides in 1958 but for the purpose of monitoring his speeding, not for controlling it. The first devices were introduced in the Netherlands and  British Commonwealth in the 1960s where film was used. It was later advanced to use ultra-red lighting in the 1980s. It went digital in the 1990s where data from the photos can be taken through the contral computing system at the police precinct and printed out for use. More information can be found here

 

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City Institutions, Laws and Agreements: The Origin of the Flensburg Files

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Author’s Note: This article is a two-in-one deal. It’s an article in connection with Germany’s 25th anniversary, but it’s also in connection with the Files’ five years and how this column came into being. Enjoy! 🙂 

While living in Germany, one will see a unique feature that has been talked about at the dinner table: institutions, laws and agreements named after German cities. We are not talking about institutions like breweries, whose headquarters are found at their places of origin, like the Flensburger, the Berliner Weisse, the Köstritzer, the Saalfelder and the like. That topic is saved for a rainy day, unless you want to know more about German beer (in that case, there’s an article for you right here). And what is also typical are the newspapers named after cities- these are also common everywhere and heceforth will be left out here.

What is meant by institutions are the banks and insurance companies that were founded in the place or origin, and with some exceptions to the rule, still exist today. Many of these financial institutions had their roots to the time of Bismarck’s regime beginning in 1871, the time when Germany was first founded as a country. Part of that had to do with Bismarck’s introduction of the social welfare and health care systems, where every citizen was required to have insurance in case of an accident. With that came the dawn of the insurance (More on that later). The Dresdner Bank was one of these examples. Founded in 1872 Karl Freiherr von Kaskel and based in Dresden, the bank became one of largest banks in Germany and eastern Europe, surviving two World Wars and the Cold War before it folded into the Commerzbank in 2009. There is also the insurance group Alte Leipziger, located an hour west of the city in Leipzig, which provides insurance coverage, especially for burn-out syndrome and other psychological disorders. One will find such (financial institutions) in many big cities, such as Munich, Stuttgart, Hannover and Frankfurt, just to name a few.

City laws and agreements are even more unique in Germany. While in the Anglo-Saxon countries have conferences and agreements on a larger scale in terms of international relations (such as the Washington Conference of 1922, the Bonn Agreement on Afghanistan in 2001 and the Frankfurt Documents in 1948), what is meant by agreements are the creation of domestic laws and systems that people in Germany have to abide by, which were signed and enacted at the place of origin. In some cases, like the Flensburg Point System, there is even an office that specializes in this type of law. As seen in the point system, the Kraftfahrtbundesamt (the office of vehicular registration) in Flensburg is responsible for giving drivers points for violations on the road. Other agreements known to exist include:

_The Düsseldorfer Tabelle: Founded in 1962 based on a controversial ruling and its subsequent appeal, the table determines how much child support a partner has to provide at the time of the divorce. It is classified based on the amount of money that person has to pay per month until the child is 25 years of age.

_Frankfurter Tabelle: This table is used to determine how much money a traveller should receive as a refund for lack of accomodations. This is determined by another table created in Kempten. The Würzburger Tabelle has a similar scheme but for boat cruises.

These are just a handful of agreements and laws that exist, which leads us to this activity:

Identify which city has its own law and agreement that was enacted in its place of origin and describe briefly what it is and how it works. That you can do in the comment section, links are welcomed regardless of language. 🙂

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Origin of the Files:

Keeping German cities in mind, the next question that many readers, family members, friends and colleagues have been asking me is: Why Flensburg and not Frankfurt?  As Piggeldy and Frederick would say: Nichts leichter als das (Easy as this):

I visited Flensburg for the first time in May 2010, as I needed to get away from everything that had been going on in my life that was unwelcomed. Just to put it bluntly and leaving it there. I had heard of the city and its proud heritage from a pair of people who either come from there or have lived there for many years. One was a former student colleague from my days as a teacher in Bayreuth, another was my best friend and his girlfriend from my days in Thuringia. I had heard about the point system before that and the beer. But upon setting foot on Flensburg soil, and exploring the city and visiting the people, it became the city worth visiting (along with the surrounding region), because of its natural surroundings, its landscape, and especially its history, tied together with that of Germany, Denmark and on the international scene. Some articles have been written about it, other themes have yet to make the column (and will soon enough). 🙂

While my main profession is an English teacher (and I’ve been doing this for 15 years), my second profession is a writer, who has been contributing works not only to this one but also to other newspapers. One day, in response to a letter I had written to a local newspaper demanding that my hometown in Minnesota set an example of what Flensburg is doing with its historic architecture by saving the former high school building, a friend and former high school classmate of mine recommended me to the areavoices website, where I can write about my experiences as a Minnesotan living in Germany, providing some photos and food for thought. She works at the Forum Communications Company based in Fargo, North Dakota but has newspaper offices throughout the Midwest, including Worthington (Minnesota),  Mitchell (South Dakota), and those throughout North Dakota in Grand Forks, Jamestown and Williston, just to name a few.

After some thought about her offer, why not?

Together with the Bridgehunter’s Chronicles, the Flensburg Files made its debut in October 2010. The origin of the Files came from my will to keep the German tradition alive: my visit in Flensburg, using the German city name for the title, and the files- there is a file for every document submitted in a form of article, photos, interviews and the life. Besides, one can do a whole lot with the letter F, as you can see in the logos below.

Five years laters, the Files is running strong. Not only does the column provide some topics pertaining to German-American themes and places to visit (Christmas markets included), but it has extended to include more on culture, education (esp. for those wanting to learn English and are non natives), current events and some food for thought on the part of the author. It now has a wordpress website, which has attracted almost a thousand subscribers (and counting) plus unknown numbers of frequent visitors to the Files’ facebook pages and twitter. In other words, it has gotten bigger, attracting a large audience from all aspects of the world. Plans are in the making in the future to include a couple more social networks and provide a few more series beyond 2015, but the Files will remain the same, an online column that provides readers with an insight of German-American themes, even if it means going behind the scenes, as the author has done already.

This leads to the last question: Why Flensburg and not other cities in Germany? We have too many institutions, laws and agreements going by the names of Munich, Berlin, Frankfurt and Hamburg, just to name a few. Plus using names of other small cities are possible but they don’t provide the kick to a top-notch column like this one. One could rename it like the Husum Herald, St.Pauli Sentinal,  Münster Morning News, Nuremberg Newsflyer, Glauchau (Daily) Globe (here, the people in Worthington would have a say in that), Leipzig Local (again same as Glauchau as that group exists), Weimar World News, etc. But nothing can top what the Flensburg Files can offer for title. And sometimes using something local and building off of what the city offers for rum, beer, handball and its point system, in addition to its beaches, landscape and especially its heritage can give a city like Flensburg a boost, like it has in the five years it has been in business, with many more years to come. 🙂

To close this article here’s a word of advice for those wanting to start an online column like this one, or a career as a journalist. Because our world is full of lies and corruption, there is one variable that is constant, which is the truth. The truth is the most important commodity a person has to deal with. This includes being true to yourself and your future. If you are sure that you want to uncover the truth and expose it, then do it. People may laugh at you at first, and you may face failure for the first few months or even years, but in the end, if you are true to your heart, you will win the hearts and minds of true friends who will stay with you to ensure that you stay to your course to become a successful writer. It takes likes of patience, passion, perseverence and persistence- the 4 Ps. Once followed, and once you receive accolades and respect for you as a true writer, then you will reach your destiny and beyond. Aim high and let the heavens do the rest.

And now, back to the writing…… 🙂

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Will Speed for Free Food!

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Photo courtesy of the Clearwater (Kansas) Police Department

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If you enjoy speeding and disregarding signs, let alone give the police and the Kraftfahrtbundesamt (Driver’s Office) in Flensburg (Germany) a headache, then this article is for you. Regardless of whether you are in Germany or the US, people love to speed and will stop at nothing to ensure that they are at least 20 km/h over the limit. In Germany, we have the blitzer machines, where drivers and their car license plates are photographed, and after a brief process of determining how many Flensburg Points  one receives and how much money one has to pay, the driver gets the check in the mail. Many people have found creative ways of manipulating these blitzer machines, like this one below:

 

Well, not quite. 🙂 But people destesting these machines have done a fabulous job manipulating them, which includes putting recycling cans over them:

 

In the US, we do not have such devices- although having them would solve all our infrastructural woes and fix our deficit in an instant- but we do have radar devices, which tracks the speed of drivers especially when going through communities, and this story shows that even some drivers love to pull a good joke. In Clearwater, Kansas, located 10 miles southwest of Wichita, police officials, in particular Chief Garcia, received a laugh of the century, as one of the drivers placed a makeshift sign next to the radar device, challenging the drivers to speed as fast as possible in order to win a prize, as shown in the picture at the beginning! 🙂 The police is looking for someone who gave the chief the biggest laugh in his career so that the driver can be “rewarded” with a free meal.

Can you imagine someone seeing this in Germany? Or Europe?

It is known that Germans have a dry sense of humor with most of them taking this as way too seriously- pending on which part of Germany you’re living in. However, aside the humor behind this picture that even some of the people at the Flensburg office would take when seeing this, the true purpose behind this radar device is the same as the German blitzer: to save lives and keep the roads safe for others to use.  Therefore, even though some of us may take this as a dose of laughter to start off the day on the road, even in Germany, the word to the wise is “Don’t, unless you want to set a new record for the highest number of Flensburg points you receive when getting caught!”

In other words, enjoy the laugh but drive carefully. 😉

For those wanting to know about Germany’s Flensburg Point system, the author wrote about this theme a few years ago as it was undergoing some reforms. More on that here.

 

Here’s a question for those who love driving:

What were some other acts drivers have done in order to get away with breaking the rules of the road, regardless of whether it was in the US, Germany or Europe? We love to hear them. Put your stories here in the comment section, or in the Flensburg Files’ facebook page, which you can access here

 

Special thanks to the Clearwater Police Department of Clearwater, Kansas for allowing use of this photo. It did provide a good laugh over here and when others read this, they will have a great start while on the road travelling to work. 😉

Flensburg Point System Reform: A necessity for travel in Germany?


The Flensburg Point system in Germany is one of the most well-structured and categorized systems used to track and crack down on reckless drivers on the roads as well as determine the severity of the traffic offenses committed, whether it is speeding, driving while texting, or causing an accident. In its 63rd  year, it has reduced the annual number of accidents by at least 50% and has taken tens of thousands of drivers unfit for driving off the roads.
Yet, despite the successes, the point system is in the process of being reformed, sparking criticism from all sides of the spectrum who believe that the reform is the least of the problems of the German.  In a nutshell, the value of the points given to the driver per offense has been halved. Meaning for example, instead of two points for speeding, the driver would receive one point. For serious offenses which warranted seven points combined with heavy fines and revocation of the driver’s license, they would be reduced to two points. However, it does not mean that the people can commit more traffic offenses and get away with not paying a fine or being forced to retake driver’s training in order to get their licenses back. The maximum number of points needed before losing the driver’s license would also be reduced from 18 to eight, and the points collected in the old system would be calculated into the new system accordingly. Even the amount of time to work off the points in the Flensburg file (Verjährungsfrist) will be extended. Up until now it took a year to work off a point. According to the new rules, it takes two, while two points can be worked off in three years. The main intention, according to the Minister of Transportation, Peter Ramsauer, is to have more transparency with regards to the regulations and how the point system should be used per offense.
Yet opposition from the automobile clubs, the German police and even members of the oppositional party disagree with these new guidelines. Apart from the fact that the changes in the point system were unnecessary, many believe that the reforms that took place served as a distraction to the major problems facing travelers in Germany, which have become sophisticated and difficult to handle. This includes the problems with driving under the influence of alcohol, driving while on the cell phone and a new phenomenon that originated from the US but has made its way to European soil, texting while driving, which is considered an offense both in the US as well as in Germany. By laxing the Flensburg Point system, critics claim that it will give (potential) offenders an incentive to break the laws on the road, in particular with regards to speeding, which is common on German highways, especially the Autobahnen (German Motorways).
Despite being dependent on public transportation and bike (as I live in a city with 120,000 inhabitants), there are some times where travelling by car is necessary, and judging by the observations, reforming the system can only be necessary if and only if certain traffic offenses that were not very common 20-30 years ago are becoming a major problem today.  If there was a ranking of the most common traffic offenses common to German standards today, it would be ranked as the following:

Speeding and reckless driving
Driving while under the influence of alcohol
Distracted driving (not concentrating because of loud music or lack of sleep)
Driving while talking on the cell phone
Driving while texting.

In US standards today, driving while texting is the number one offense followed by driving while talking on the cell phone, and law enforcement officials have increased in numbers on many major highways in the last three years and have not hesitated in ticketing and jailing someone for speeding and driving under the influence of alcohol. This has resulted in a dramatic drop in the number of these incidences over time and drivers really watching it while driving- being overly careful to ensure that the money earned through their jobs do go for paying the fine or even worse, paying for court costs. In Germany, it is totally different.
We are faced with a double-edged sword on German roads today as we are seeing two sets of trends that could negatively impact the way we drive. The first one is that we are seeing more people going mobile- meaning that more people are commuting away from their homes in order to get better pay elsewhere. This includes many people living in the northern and eastern parts of the country but working in the southern half of the country, in places like Bavaria, Baden-Wurttemberg, Hesse, Rheinland-Palatinate, and Saarland, just to name a few. While train service has become more and more difficult to come by, the only way to work for many is by car and therefore, there is the trip home late Friday night and back to work on Monday morning, the times where most of the accidents take place. This also applies to people travelling by car on business trips and having to arrive at their destinations punctually to avoid being looked down upon. As many of us know, Germany prides itself on being the most punctual, so being there 15 minutes before an appointment is more preferred than being there only a minute before.

In addition to that trend we are also seeing another trend where distracted driving is causing some massive problems on the roads. This includes driving while texting, driving while on the cell phone (a very common offense for the last 6-7 years) and unchecked aggression towards other drivers and even cyclists. While the first and third portions of the offense have been included in the Flensburg point system, the second offense will have to require some investigating for although it is not common to do this on the roads, the trend is definitely rising.  Given the difference in dimensions of the roads between the USA and Germany despite some highways and Autobahnen being widened for safety purposes, one cannot afford to  commit these offenses unless they risk an accident and the consequences that follow (loss of driver’s license in accordance to the Flensburg point system, legal action and possible legal sanctions).
With the simplicity of the point system, as Ramsauer is planning, it will be more difficult to determine the degree of the traffic offense, let alone the consequences of the traffic offense. Instead the German government should look at other incentives to discourage traffic offenses and encourage safe driving habits. Reforming the Flensburg point system is definitely not a way to improve transparence, but increasing the point value for traffic offenses that have become more sophisticated (while at the same time, increase penalties for each offense and offer compulsory courses to encourage better driving habits) will definitely force drivers to think about their actions on the road and change their habits accordingly. After all, safe driving can also save lives, as there are more than 35,000 traffic fatalities in the European Union, a number that can be reduced even further.

While Ramsauer plan to open an online three-week forum about the changes in the Flensburg Point system beginning in May, he should not be surprised if he receives any criticism towards the reforms being carried out; especially from other countries that do not have such point systems, like the US but could use a similar system to crack down on traffic offenses, including distracted driving and aggression towards other drivers. Perhaps a pair of Flensburg points given to a driver for giving another driver the bird and three for texting while driving will give American drivers an incentive to think before taking action on the road. But before President Obama can think about introducing such a system, he must first watch the developments over in Germany before deciding whether it would make sense on America’s roads or not. With reforms becoming more confusing than simple, Ramsauer will have a rather difficult time to sell his reform plan to those, who like me believe that there are no problems with the Flensburg Point System and that it should be left as is.

The website with the forum on the Flensburg Point System Reform can be found here: http://www.punktereform.de.  (Available from 1 May on)