Dealing with German Parking Fines And Speeding Tickets
At some point, most of us who own cars here are probably going to get slapped with a speeding ticket or a parking fine. The latter are especially common with often confusing signs and parking regulations in cities. We take a look at some of the watch-outs and explain what you should expect as part of the process.
Both parking fines and minor speeding offences are considered as Ordnungswidrigkeiten in German legal speak. This in simple terms means that paying a fine and not contesting the offence usually means that the matter is considered closed and a court appearance is not necessary.
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German parking fines are mostly issued by the Ordnungsamt who work for the city / municipality. These guys are essentially a second tier police force who can hand out fines and deal with minor disturbances but do not have the power to make arrests. The municipal road traffic department are in turn responsible for collecting the revenue.
What should you expect? Well, it really depends what the offence is.
Minor German parking fines, such as parking in a residents only parking zone without a permit, or parking on the street in a permitted parking zone without a ticket (or an expired ticket) are usually the mildest of all of these. This will most likely cost you less than the price of a meal out.
If you have impeded traffic or pedestrians the fine could be more costly, depending on the situation. Some more serious (and expensive) examples include blocking access to a residential parking garage / private spaces, obstructing either a bus lane, loading / unloading area or cycle lane, parking in an area which prevents wider vehicles such as buses or trucks from passing, or completely blocking a pavement and forcing pedestrians to walk on the road to circumnavigate your car.
All of these, depending on the circumstances, could result in heavier fines and in some cases even your car being towed.
If your car does get towed, then expect to pay the release fee as well as the fine. Both of them together will often be upwards of €250. A lot of money for a stupid mistake.
Parking in a private parking spot on somebody else’s property (residential or commercial) can also lead to clamping or a hefty fine if a private contractor is called out to remove or clamp your car.
So you’ve received a fine for a minor parking offence?
Naughty naughty. What do you do now?
The simple answer in most cases is you have to pay up. It might sound harsh but it’s not the Ordungsamt officer’s fault that you don’t know the applicable law. He is just doing his job. Those fines pay his salary, right?
The first correspondence you receive upon incurring a parking fine is usually a warning letter for a relatively small amount, although this does depend on the seriousness of the offence. For a minor situation, this is normally anything between €10 and €30. Make sure you pay it within a few weeks. It usually gives you 2 weeks to pay up but in reality, if you pay within the first month then it’s very unlikely that you will have any further proceedings or increased fines levied against you.
Minor German parking fines are considered civil offences and do not count as points on your licence or any other type of permanent record. They are also an important and vital source of revenue for municipalities which issue them! If you’re rich or stupid enough, you could park illegally every day if it’s a non-dangerous situation and just pay the fines.
How to contest
If you believe that you have been unjustly handed a fine, it is possible to contest this without any penalty or disadvantage other than your time and effort spent doing so. Unlike in some countries, where contesting a parking fine is like playing poker because you lose your early payment discount if your complaint is rejected, fortunately the German system doesn’t work like this. You need to write to the issuing authority (in German), providing justification why you believe the fine is wrong. After considering your dispute, if they still uphold the fine then you will receive a sternly written letter referring to the laws which uphold the offence, and usually demanding a payment within 14 days. Failure to pay up at this point will then result in the fine increasing significantly. Ultimately, if you still protest your innocence, you can advise them of your intention to go to a small claims court to defend your position.
I successfully disputed a parking fine a few years ago when I received a notice for not parking in an official space on a car park at a ski resort. The markings on that day were not visible due to snow cover, so I wrote to them rejecting the fine on these grounds and I didn’t receive any further notices to pay up.
Think very carefully, however, before considering hiring a lawyer to dispute a relatively small fine. The costs can easily amount to several hundred Euro. More trouble than it’s worth unless you have done your homework and are more or less certain you will win.
More detailed info (in German) can be found here.
The bad news here is that the German police are sneaky when it comes to speeding fines. Fixed cameras are often placed in areas where it is difficult to spot them and also in most cases come with no warning that there is a fixed speed entrapment device. Whereas in the UK, France, Spain and Belgium, there are in most cases signs warning you when you are approaching fixed speed cameras, in Germany these are very rare. Unmarked cars with mobile speed cameras are also frequently used, especially in residential areas of towns and cities. These have been my particular nemesis over the years!
On the plus side, speeding fines in Germany are low compared to most neighbouring countries and you only receive points on your licence for being considerably over the speed limit. Fines in residential areas are higher and the points thresholds are lower. Getting points in Germany is often referred to as Punkte in Flensburg, referring to the city where the administrative authority is based which deals with driving licence endorsements.
Speeding fines can be broken down into 3 main categories:
The first and most simple one is for minor offences where you will receive a letter shortly after being photographed by a speed camera. These are very similar to parking fines, insofar as prompt payment upon receiving the initial notification is seen as an acceptance of the fine, and a formal caution is the only action taken against you. Typically you have 14 days to pay.
More serious speeding offences will result in you having points applied to your licence (assuming you hold a German drivers’ licence – the German authorities at the time of writing cannot put endorsement points on foreign licences).
Finally, the most serious speeding offences can result in a driving ban, depending on the severity of the offence. In these instances, you will have to surrender your driving licence at a local police station for the duration of the ban. You will also receive points and may be required to attend a speed awareness course.
A brief summary of all of parking and unauthorised stopping fines can be found in the table below.
For those of you with even a minimal knowledge of German, these Apps are also handy for calculating what your fine or points endorsement will be if you have that sinking feeling of seeing a camera flash and wondering how hard it’s going to hit you.
Until next time, drive safely and try to keep your money in your own pocket rather than the government’s!