What is a Fine?
A fine is imposed by an administrative authority to penalize a traffic violation and is settled by payment of money. In everyday usage, the terms fine and penalty are identical. It must be at least €5. In the range of €5 to €55, it is also referred to as a warning fine. In German law it’s important to distinguish a fine as an administrative law concept from a fine as a criminal penalty. A criminal fine is used, in a similar manner, to penalize criminal offenses.
In road traffic, the vast majority of legal violations are classified as administrative offenses. Therefore, fines are quite common in this context. However, there are also serious legal violations in road traffic that are pursued as criminal offenses. For example, hit and run or causing traffic accidents under the influence of alcohol. When a legal violation is both an administrative offense and a criminal offense, only criminal law is applied.
|Sanctioning of Administrative Offenses|
The amount of the fine is legally capped.
|Sanctioning of Criminal Offenses|
The amount of the criminal fine is determined by the court, often based on income.
How Much Is the Fine?
In most cases of administrative offenses behind the wheel, the usual standard rates of the fine catalog apply. Generally, fines range from €5 to €1000. However, the Road Traffic Act provides for a maximum fine of €2000 for administrative offenses. For violations of the 0.5 per mille limit or driving under the influence of illegal drugs, the maximum fine is even €3000.
(2) The administrative offense can be punished with a fine of up to two thousand euros.
§24a StVG “0.5 per mille Limit”
(4) The administrative offense can be punished with a fine of up to three thousand euros.
The maximum fine limit always applies to intentional administrative offenses. For negligently committed administrative offenses, the fine is a maximum of half of the limit.
You can find the standard rates for various traffic administrative offenses in the fine table.
These standard rates in the fine table are based on “ordinary circumstances.” Most standard rates are related to offenses that are typically committed negligently. Therefore, the standard rates tend to be on the lower end of what can be fined for each respective offense. In the case of an alleged intentionally committed administrative offense, the fine can be appropriately increased and can be far above the standard rate. It is quite common for the fine on the notice in your mailbox to be twice as high as in the fine table.
Common Offenses with Fines
|20€ to 680€||0 to 2||0 to 3 months|
|25€ to 400€||0 to 2||0 to 3 months|
|90€ to 360€||1 to 2||0 to 1 month|
|500€ to 1500€||2||1 to 3 months|
|100€ to 200€||1 to 2||0 to 1 month|
|25€ to 400€||0 to 2||None|
|10€ to 70€||0 to 1||None|
Warning and Fine Procedures
How do warning and fine procedures work?
A fee-based warning can be issued if only a minor traffic violation has been committed (in very minor cases, a fee-free warning may also be considered). Warning fines are defined in § 56 paragraph 1 of the Administrative Offenses Act (OWiG); they range from a minimum of 5€ to a maximum of 70€.
For warnings with fines of up to 70€, no points are recorded in the driving fitness register!
Such a warning can be issued by the traffic fine office or directly handed out by police officers on the spot. Accepting a warning on-site does not constitute an admission of guilt. However, if it is issued due to involvement in an accident, insurance companies often interpret it as an indication that the individual contributed to the accident, in whole or in part, through a traffic violation.
The warning fine for a written warning must be paid within one week (according to § 56 paragraph 2 OWiG). By making the payment within the specified time, the individual agrees to the warning, and the warning becomes effective. This concludes the process, and further prosecution of the offense is precluded.
If the accused fails to pay the warning fine within the specified period and if the traffic fine office does not drop the case, even though the accused has responded to the allegation, a fine proceeding will be initiated.
This has the following consequences:
- In addition to the warning fine, administrative costs of €28.50 are charged in the fine notice;
- As a result of an objection, a judicial procedure is now possible.
Hearing in the Fine and Warning Procedure
Even in the case of a fee-based warning, every accused person has the right to respond to the allegation. This right to comment must be expressly granted to the individual. However, the form is not prescribed. If a driver is stopped on the spot due to a traffic violation, their verbal statements are considered a hearing on the matter, and an additional written hearing is not necessarily required.
The accused has the right to refuse to testify or to remain silent in any form of hearing. They are only obligated to provide complete and accurate personal information and, upon request, to present identification, driver’s license, and vehicle documents.
Sometimes, the accused is summoned to a local police station to give them an opportunity to respond to the allegation. It is not mandatory to comply with such a summons, and they are not required to testify on the matter. They can also hire a lawyer to represent their interests during the hearing. The accused must be explicitly informed of all these rights.
The most common form of hearing is conducted in writing, where the accused is sent a hearing questionnaire. This letter must also include the above-mentioned information about the recipient’s rights. A hearing questionnaire cannot be simply ignored. However, the accused is only obliged to provide correct personal information. They are not required to make any statements about the allegation or the circumstances of the offense. In particular, they do not have to comment on their driver status, i.e., whether they were driving the vehicle at the time of the offense. Such statements should be made in consultation with a lawyer, as they can have a crucial impact on the further proceedings.
If the accused does not receive a hearing questionnaire, their right to a hearing and to comment on the matter remains intact as long as they file an objection to the fine notice.
In some cases, when the case handler at the fine office reviews the front-facing evidence photos, it becomes clear that the vehicle owner could not have been the driver. This is often the case when a family member was driving the vehicle (for example, when the gender already indicates that the driver and the vehicle owner are not the same), or when the vehicle is registered to a company.
In this scenario, the vehicle owner is contacted as a witness. They will receive a witness questionnaire in which they are asked who was the driver of the vehicle at the relevant time. This document cannot be simply ignored. However, in this case, the vehicle owner can only refuse to make a statement if doing so would incriminate themselves or a close family member.
Under no circumstances should the vehicle owner provide false information about the responsible driver, as this would constitute making a false statement in an official proceeding and can be prosecuted as a crime.
The police can be asked by the fine office for assistance in conducting further investigations, irrespective of the information provided in the witness questionnaire. Typically, such activities are not pursued in connection with warning fines but only for violations that result in at least one point being recorded in the driver fitness register. It is possible that police officers may visit the home of the vehicle owner to determine the driver at the time of the offense.
Increasingly, social media is used to identify the driver. For example, if there are photos on the Facebook or Pinterest accounts of the vehicle owner or their contacts showing the driver, the police can use this as evidence and as a basis for further investigations.
Statute of Limitations in Driver Identification
However, the fine offices and all agencies called upon for assistance have only 3 months to identify the driver in a traffic violation case. After that, the matter becomes statute-barred. Additionally, all events that lead to an interruption of the statute of limitations period must be considered.
No Owner Liability, but a Driving Log
Since there is no owner liability in Germany, the vehicle owner is not penalized for the violation committed by an unidentified driver.
If the driver cannot be identified but it is a serious offense (with at least 1 point), the fine office or the court may impose the requirement to maintain a driving log for one or even two years.
The situation is different for a parking violation. Although there is no owner liability here either, the vehicle owner must bear the procedural costs if no driver can be identified. These costs usually exceed the amount of the warning fine. This regulation ended the common practice, which was prevalent until the late 1980s, of refusing to provide information in parking violation cases to avoid paying the warning fine.
Under no circumstances should the vehicle owner provide false information about the responsible driver, as this constitutes making a false statement in an administrative proceeding and can be prosecuted as a crime.
The procedural costs borne by the owner generally amount to at least €20.00, plus an expense allowance of €3.50.
If the affected person has been given sufficient opportunity to comment on the matter and respond to the allegation, the fine office will assess whether the circumstances have been adequately clarified. It will then either issue a fine notice or close the case.
Traffic Fine Notice
The traffic fine notice includes at least the following information:
- Personal details of the accused
- Location of the traffic violation
- Time of the traffic violation
- Regulation violated
- Legal assessment (if the accused has provided a statement, there is usually an indication of how their statement was considered and taken into account)
- Amount of the fine
- Amount of procedural costs
- Due date
And additionally, in the case of a driving ban:
- Duration of the driving ban
- Deadline for commencing the driving ban
Objection to the Traffic Fine Notice
Deadline for Objection
An objection to the fine notice must be made within two weeks of its delivery. The crucial factor is always the time of delivery, not the time when the individual becomes aware of the notice. The time of delivery is usually recorded by the postal carrier and noted on the envelope of the registered mail. Additionally, the postal carrier reports the time of delivery back to the fine office.
If the two-week objection period ends on a Saturday, Sunday, or holiday, the deadline is extended until the end (midnight) of the next working day.
The decisive factor for compliance with the deadline is the receipt of the objection by the authority. If the objection is not received by the traffic fine office within the deadline, the traffic fine notice becomes legally binding.
Missed the Deadline? Request for Reinstatement
If the individual cannot meet the deadline without their own fault, there is the possibility to file a request for reinstatement. The legal basis is §52 OWiG. In this case, the procedure is “reset” to the state it was in before the deadline expired. If it concerns the objection deadline against a traffic fine notice, the request should be directed to the traffic fine office. However, if a main hearing date or, following a judgment, the deadline for an appeal is missed, the court must decide on reinstatement. Once the obstacle causing the deadline to be missed is removed, one week remains for filing the request.
What must the request for reinstatement contain?
The request must include detailed information about:
- Which deadline was missed
- What reasons or obstacles led to the deadline being missed
- When the obstacle was removed
- Why the failure to meet the deadline was not due to one’s own fault (for example, sudden illness or accident, vacation or business trip without knowledge of the ongoing proceedings)
- Evidence for the presented facts (such as travel documents, medical certificates, accident reports, sworn affidavits from witnesses, etc.)
Simultaneously with the request for reinstatement, the missed legal remedy must also be pursued, such as the objection against the traffic fine notice, the application for appeal, etc.
Who can file an objection?
The objection must be made by a party entitled to object. This can be the accused themselves, a lawyer authorized by them, or another person authorized by them.
Form of the Objection
The objection is addressed to the administrative authority that issued the fine notice. The form is not specified. An objection can be made in writing, by fax, or even by phone. Many lawyers advise against objections via email as delivery is not guaranteed, mainly due to various spam filter systems.
Contents of the Objection
The objection must clearly indicate what it is objecting to. An objection does not necessarily have to be directed against the entire fine notice and all its contents.
- If multiple violations are sanctioned in one fine notice, the objection could be directed against only a single violation.
- The objection could only be directed against the charge itself, for example, by arguing that negligence should be assumed instead of intent.
- Or only the legal consequences could be contested, for example, by objecting to the imposition of a driving ban.
Grounds for the Objection
If the objection is submitted within the deadline, the traffic fine authority must review it and make a decision on how to proceed with the traffic violation. Since the traffic fine authority is still the competent authority at this stage, it can:
- Discontinue the proceedings (according to § 47 OWiG paragraph 1).
- Withdraw the traffic fine notice and thereby accept the objection.
- Issue a new, amended traffic fine notice, thereby partially or fully accepting the objection.
To aid in the decision-making process, it may also conduct further investigations initially.
If the traffic fine authority upholds its decision and makes no changes to the notice, the case file is transferred to the public prosecutor’s office. The public prosecutor’s office then submits the file to the relevant court.
If the public prosecutor’s office or the court, based on the case file, conclude that judicial prosecution is not warranted, the proceedings can also be terminated at this stage. If the proceedings are not terminated at this point, the following possibilities exist:
- The court schedules a date for the main hearing.
- The court informs the individual that it intends to make a decision based on the investigation file without a trial (according to § 72 OWiG). The individual must be heard on this matter. If the individual does not object to the court’s intention, the court will decide without a main hearing through written proceedings but cannot increase the penalties set out in the traffic fine notice in this case.
If there is an oral hearing, the individual is generally obligated to appear in person, even if they are represented by a lawyer and live far from the court location. The court will grant a request to be exempt from this attendance requirement.
- If the individual has already made statements about the case,
- If they have stated that they intend to exercise their right to remain silent during the hearing,
- And if, in addition, the court believes that the facts can be clarified without the individual’s personal presence.
However, if the driver’s identity is to be determined through identification using a frontal photo, the court will not exempt the individual from the requirement to be present.
In addition to the accused, the court will summon all individuals as witnesses who are important for clarifying the facts. These can include not only the police officers and municipal employees involved in establishing the offense but also experts who can clarify the disputed points with their specialized knowledge. For example, they may provide insight into the accuracy and reliability of the measurement method used, the match between the accused and the front photo, or the exact sequence of events in an accident.
During the main hearing, the contents of the fine notice are presented once again. The court informs the accused of their rights, particularly the right to remain silent regarding the matter. Regarding personal circumstances (income, maintenance obligations), the accused is not required to provide any information at this time. However, they must provide accurate personal information and make corrections if necessary.
Any statement regarding the matter should be coordinated with a lawyer.
Once the accused has been informed of their rights and had the opportunity to make a statement (whether they choose to speak or remain silent), the evidence collection process begins. This involves hearing witnesses and, if necessary, experts. Even at this stage of the proceedings, evidence that could exonerate the accused can still be presented. However, the judge is not obligated to accept every request for evidence. For example, the judge may reject a request if the belated naming of a witness would prevent the completion of evidence collection and necessitate a new trial date. Additionally, if the judge deems the facts to be sufficiently clarified, they may not need to accept further evidence presentations. Therefore, it is important to coordinate with the defense attorney about when and what evidence should be presented.
Once the evidence collection is complete, relevant documents for the judgment are read aloud, such as entries in the driver’s fitness register or fine notices that have become legally valid within the last 12 months and may affect the sentencing. Then, the defense attorney is given the opportunity for a closing argument, followed by the accused’s final statement (they have “the last word”).
Subsequently, the court pronounces its verdict. If the matter cannot be decided at this point, a follow-up date is scheduled.
Court Verdict in Traffic Fine Proceedings
If the court is of the opinion that the accused did not commit the offense, an acquittal is issued. This happens very rarely because the traffic authorities are instructed to conduct thorough investigations beforehand to determine who committed the offense and whether it can be proven. Additionally, the prosecutor’s office also reevaluates whether a court proceeding is likely to lead to a conviction. However, if an acquittal does occur, all procedural costs are borne by the state treasury, including any necessary expenses incurred by the accused. This also includes the costs of legal representation.
Discontinuation of Proceedings
Much more frequently, the court decides to discontinue the proceedings (according to § 47 (2) OWiG). Reasons for discontinuation may include, in particular:
- The culpability of the party concerned is low.
- There are doubts about the measurement procedure.
- The status of the driver is not clearly established.
Even if the existing uncertainties could potentially be clarified through expert opinions and additional experts, the court may decide to discontinue the proceedings nonetheless, as further measures would be disproportionately expensive and not in a reasonable relation to the alleged offense.
If the proceedings are discontinued, the party concerned emerges completely without any penalties. However, they must bear all their expenses unless they have legal protection insurance that covers the costs of their defense. This includes, in particular, the costs for the lawyer.
In the case of proceedings being discontinued, there is no entry in the driver fitness register. The discontinuation conclusively closes the proceedings. Appeals are not permitted.
If the court becomes convinced that the allegations in the fine notice are correct and that the party concerned is guilty of the administrative offense, a conviction will be issued.
INFO: In some cases, the court may provide an indication that a conviction is likely. In such instances, consideration can be given to withdrawing the objection. This option is available at any time during the main hearing as long as the judgment has not been pronounced yet. By withdrawing the objection, the party concerned avoids the possibility that the judgment will be more severe than the penalty in the fine notice. Additionally, the court costs will be slightly lower in such cases.
When the court delivers a judgment, it is in no way bound by the fine notice. The judgment can be more favorable or less favorable for the party concerned. Based on the evidence presented, the court conducts a new, independent legal assessment. In doing so, the court may arrive at a different legal assessment or impose different legal consequences (fines). A worsening in the court’s judgment is only excluded when the court, with the consent of the party concerned, decides in writing, i.e., without a main hearing.
When a judgment is rendered, the review of the alleged offense, the course of events, and all relevant circumstances of the offense is concluded. Unlike in criminal law, a reexamination due to an appeal or revision is not provided for in administrative offense law. The only permissible legal remedy is a legal appeal. However, a legal appeal is only admissible if either a violation of the law or a procedural error can be alleged against the court, and the fine exceeds 100€. Such a procedural error would exist, for example, if the party concerned was not sufficiently heard.
A legal appeal is generally only permissible for fines of at least 250€ or for driving bans.
If the fines are below these thresholds, legal appeals are only admissible if, according to § 80 OWiG, they are intended to “review the judgment for the development of the law” or if the appeal serves the “preservation of consistent legal practice” (§ 80 OWiG). The legal appeal must be requested and approved by the court of appeal (typically an appellate court). For instance, a legal appeal would serve the development of the law if there are doubts about the validity of a traffic regulation. If there is different jurisprudence on the subject of the trial, a legal appeal may be meaningful so that the appellate court can evaluate the different judgments and make a binding statement. The legal appeal may also be admissible if a judge repeatedly deviates from established legal precedent.
Overall, the hurdles for the approval of a legal appeal are high, so most administrative offense proceedings are decided in the first instance, i.e., at the district court (Amtsgericht).
Deadlines for Legal Appeal
The legal appeal or the request for approval of the legal appeal must be filed within one week after becoming aware of the judgment. This point in time is either the pronouncement of the judgment or, if the party concerned was not present, the delivery of the court judgment. The legal appeal must be substantiated either by a lawyer or by recording at the court. There is a one-month period for this purpose. The month begins with the expiration of the filing period or, if this occurs later, with the delivery of the grounds of the judgment.