Police ‘powerless’ to stop phones at the wheel

Police admitted on Tuesday they were powerless to stop German drivers using their smartphones at the wheel and that the number of people doing so was going up.

Police 'powerless' to stop phones at the wheel
Photo: DPA

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“The unreported figure of people doing it is enormously high, certainly in the tens of thousands,” said head of the traffic branch of the Berlin police, Andreas Tschisch.

He said that the police did not have the resources to control the number of people who were reaching to answer a text or Facebook message while driving.

It could be very difficult to tell when someone was reading a message, as smartphones can be held inconspicuously, he said.

A spokesman for the North-Rhine Westphalia (NRW) interior ministry said there were no concrete numbers on those using their phone at the wheel.

Mobiles have become such an integrated part of life that people were finding it harder not to use them for stretches of time – despite knowing the dangers of driving with them, the spokesman added.

Last year around 131,000 people were caught on their phones in NRW. Drivers can be fined €40 for using their phone and given points on their licence. 

SEE ALSO: Five dos and don'ts on Germany's Autobahns

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Driving in Germany: How a court decision could change right-of-way rules

The highest court in Germany has declared that an important right-of-way rule that most people use in car parks is invalid. What does it mean for drivers?

Driving in Germany: How a court decision could change right-of-way rules

What’s going on?

Germany’s Supreme Court (BGH) issued a new ruling on Thursday that could change the conventions for driving in car parks. 

On ordinary roads, the so-called “right before left” rule applies whenever there are no police officers or road signs dictating the right of way. That means that at a junction or intersection, whoever comes from the right has the right of way, assuming there are no traffic lights or signs.

Many people assume that a “right before left” rule also applies in a parking lot when there’s no explicit right of way – but the BGH has ruled that this isn’t the case. 

Supreme Court judges said that, in most cases, “the motorist coming from the right – erroneously – considers himself to have the right of way” when driving in car parks. However, there is no reason to “privilege” the driver simply because of the direction they are travelling in, the ruling states.

READ ALSO: Which German cities are the worst for traffic?

The issue was brought to the BGH after two motorists in Lübeck had an accident in the car park of a hardware shop. Due a parked lorry, the motorists didn’t see each other in time and ended up in a collision. 

However, the plaintiff argued that he wasn’t liable for any damages since he had been coming from the right and the other motorist should have given way. The Supreme Court rejected this argument. 

How will the rules change?

Ultimately, it means that drivers should use common sense and consideration to decide which car has the right of way in a given situation.

According to the Supreme Court judges, this is a safer way to organise traffic in car parks than assuming that “right before left” always applies. 

The court also noted that there’s no special regulation that defines the right of way in car parks. This means that “right before left” should only be used in parts of the car park where the lanes are “primarily used for access and exit and thus for flowing traffic”. 

This wouldn’t apply in most cases, though, since these lanes are usually for loading and unloading or manoeuvring. 

That means that in general, there’s no obligation for the driver who comes from the left to give way. Instead, drivers should decide this amongst themselves and show consideration to their fellow car-users when driving in parking lots. 

READ ALSO: REVEALED: The key traffic violations and fines to know about in Germany

What happened to the Lübeck drivers?  

The two drivers from Lübeck now have to split the cost of the damage, with one driver 70 percent and the other driver paying 30.

One of the two had filed a lawsuit against the other’s liability insurance, which had based its payment on a 50/50 liability. He was partially successful before the Lübeck District Court, which hiked the other party’s liability to 70 percent.

The Lübeck Regional Court didn’t award him more on appeal: it found that the other driver had been driving too fast but did not accept the argument that the other party had come from the left and therefore had to give way.