The Uniform Penalty Catalogue
Until the beginning of the century, different penalty regulations applied in different federal states. It was only on the 1st of January 2002 that the cross-state regulation came into effect for the first time, under the still-valid name “Regulation on Issuing Warnings, Standard Rates for Fines, and Imposing Driving Bans for Traffic Offences (Bußgeltkatalogverordnung – BKatV).” The currently valid version dates from 2013 and came into effect on the 1st of May 2014. Minor changes, however, are made almost every year.
The Penalty Catalogue Regulation thus forms the basis for the sanctioning of traffic offences. The distinction between an offence and a criminal act in road traffic is not determined by the Penalty Catalogue but is regulated by the Criminal Code (StGB). Section 315c, titled “Endangering Road Traffic,” specifies when a traffic offence becomes a criminal act.
The Penalty Catalogue also includes other distinctions. For example, if intent can be proven for offences that are normally committed negligently, the respective fine is doubled.
For some offences, it is assumed that they are committed not negligently but always intentionally. These include, for example, using a mobile phone without a hands-free device while driving, participating in illegal car races (the penalties for which were significantly increased on the 24th of August 2017), or using a radar detector to warn of speed cameras (including mobile phones with such functions). These regularly intentional offences are separately regulated in the Penalty Catalogue.
The Penalty Catalogue is subordinate to the Act on Regulatory Offences. In principle, the law provides for fines for intentionally committed regulatory offences of at least €5 but not exceeding €2,000. An exception applies to alcohol and drug offences (§24a StVG), for which a maximum limit of €3,000 is specified. For negligent offences, the maximum amounts are €1,000 or €1,500.
Objectives of the Penalty Catalogue
Until the year 2001, there were no uniform penalty regulations for the entire Germany. Each federal state could independently establish fines for traffic violations. The introduction of a nationally uniform catalogue significantly simplified a highly relevant part of traffic law for motorists.
The Penalty Catalogue enables swift, consistent procedures through administration and aims to relieve the courts as much as possible from the burden of handling regulatory offense cases. This objective is largely achieved for so-called “minor regulatory offenses” which are punishable with fines of less than €60. In the past, there were numerous objection procedures for minor regulatory offenses, and the introduction of the BKatV (Penalty Catalogue Regulation) has led to a significant decrease in such cases.
However, problems persist with offenses that result in penalty points and driving bans. Especially in cases of impending driving bans, affected individuals often file objections against the penalty notice. The frequency of objections is also supported by the fact that many German motorists have traffic legal protection insurance that must cover the costs of objections in penalty proceedings.
Systematics in the Penalty Catalogue 2024
The regulation classifies violations in road traffic as follows:
Violations without endangerment, which are penalized with warning fines, are not recorded in the driver fitness register. The procedure ends with the payment of the warning fine.
Serious violations with endangerment are registered with one point in the driver fitness register. A driving ban is only imposed if two violations are registered within 12 months. The entry with one point expires after two and a half years.
For very serious violations with severe endangerment of safety, driving bans are regularly imposed, which can last from one to three months. Additionally, two points are recorded in the driver fitness register. The entry with two points expires only after five years.
Criminal offenses in road traffic are not uniformly regulated in the Penalty Catalogue. They are always assessed within the framework of a judicial proceeding. Judges have significant discretion in determining penalties. However, an entry with 3 points in the driver fitness register is certain. The entry with 3 points expires only after ten years.
As a rough estimate of the boundary between violations without endangerment, which are only penalized with warning fines, and serious violations, the threshold of €60 is used. Beyond this amount, the fine is no longer considered a warning but rather a penalty, and usually, 1 point is also recorded. However, there are violations that carry higher fines without points being added to the driver fitness register.
• Operating a truck in violation of the Sunday and holiday driving ban
→ A fine of 380 euros is imposed on the vehicle owner. However, no points are recorded in the driver fitness register.
• Incorrect or missing entries in the logbook, despite a corresponding requirement
→ A fine of 100 euros is imposed. Again, no points are added to the driver fitness register.
These violations (and several others) are not regulated in the Penalty Catalogue. In particular, the specific regulations for professional drivers are not found in the general Penalty Catalogue. They are specified in special internal administrative catalogues.
Deviation from the Penalty Catalogue Regulations
Since the Penalty Catalogue is designed as a legal ordinance, the penalty authorities and traffic courts cannot freely decide on the amount of the fine. They are bound by the provisions of the Penalty Catalogue in cases without special circumstances. The penalty authority usually assumes such a standard case unless clear indications of special circumstances are present.
If an objection is raised against the penalty notice, the penalty office transfers the case to the court. The court cannot simply assume an average case but must first examine it. Only after this examination can the court apply the standard rates of the Penalty Catalogue. However, if the court identifies deviations from the standard case, it is allowed to adjust the fine accordingly. For instance, if the examination reveals that the violation was against a new, not widely known regulation, a lower fine may be imposed.
However, if there are already prior entries, the court is allowed to “appropriately” increase the fine at its own discretion. If the driver fitness register already has several points, or if the existing points were entered for the same offense as the current violation, the violation is considered above-average in severity and is accordingly penalized more strictly. In this case, it is referred to as “persistent violations of the regulations.” For intentional offenses penalized with at least 60 euros, Section 3 (4a) of the Penalty Catalogue provides for a doubling of the fine.
The court may also consider the economic circumstances of the person involved in cases of deviations from the standard case. If the individual earns significantly above average, an increased fine may be imposed. Conversely, if the individual is economically incapable of paying the standard fine or the increased fine, the court may reduce the fine. However, the points in the driver fitness register are still entered according to the Penalty Catalogue, regardless of any reduction in the fine.
Typical Deviations from the Standard Case
When examining whether a special case (and thus a deviation from the standard case) exists, the court distinguishes between the following two categories:
Special Circumstances in the Course of the Offense
These arise whenever there is only slight negligence or a momentary lapse, for example, if a single traffic sign was overlooked. Special circumstances can also lead to unintentional violations in cases of running a red light. Some examples include:
• The driver of a vehicle is “pulled along” by turning vehicles with their own traffic signals, even though the traffic light in their direction is red.
• In cases with multiple traffic signals for different directions, the driver of a vehicle confuses the traffic signal that applies to them.
• The traffic guidance is unclear, causing the driver of a vehicle to make an error regarding the applicable traffic signal.
In such cases, the court can determine that only slight negligence rather than gross negligence is present. This results in no standard driving ban being imposed. Instead, the court may order a higher fine – usually a solution much more favorable for the individual. In some cases, the court may even impose a lower fine or even suspend the proceedings due to insignificance.
Special Circumstances Related to the Individual
Even when no special circumstances are identified during the offense, the court can refrain from imposing a driving ban if it would represent an unreasonable burden for the individual. Typical examples of unreasonable burdens due to a temporary loss of the driver’s license include:
• The imminent loss of employment
• Threat to the livelihood of self-employed individuals who can only perform their work with the help of a vehicle (such as sales representatives, home care services, craftsmen, taxi drivers, courier drivers, etc.)
• Impairment of the individual who, without a driver’s license, would be unable to attend professional or medically necessary appointments
• Regular transport services for disabled individuals. This generally applies to private caregivers who transport relatives or dependents with disabilities.
Concurrence of Offenses and Multiple Offenses
In the legal assessment of traffic violations, the distinction between concurrence of offenses and multiple offenses can play a significant role.
The term “concurrence of offenses” is used when multiple violations occur but are committed in a very close temporal and spatial connection. For example, modern speed cameras, often placed behind an intersection, can detect both red light violations (violation of §37 (2) StVO) and speeding violations (violation of §3 StVO). If the driver exceeds the speed limit and runs a red light, these are two concurrent offenses.
When both violations have a standard fine of more than 55 euros, the following rule is applied:
The two fines are not added together. Instead, the higher of the two standard fines is used as the basis. This amount is then appropriately increased. Only the higher violation results in points being recorded in the driver fitness register. For example, for a qualified red light violation (the traffic light showed red for more than one second) without endangerment, the Penalty Catalogue specifies a fine of 200 euros, 2 points in Flensburg, and a 1-month driving ban. If this violation occurs simultaneously with a speeding violation of 24 km/h, which itself carries a 1-month driving ban, 1 point in Flensburg, and an 80 euro fine, only the more severe of the two violations is considered. The individual receives 2 points in Flensburg, a 1-month driving ban, and an appropriately increased fine, but not 3 points or a 2-month driving ban, for instance.
On the other hand, multiple offenses occur when multiple violations of traffic regulations happen without a close spatial and temporal connection. Here’s an example: In some towns, there may be a speed camera at the entrance to the town and another within the town, such as near schools or kindergartens. In such cases, the standard practice of the traffic authorities and courts is to consider multiple offenses. In this situation, there may be only one fine notice, but each individual offense is listed separately and sanctioned separately with points and fines (similarly for warning fines).
Despite the nationwide validity of the penalty catalog, differences in the highest court rulings exist in traffic law, which are determined by the higher regional courts of the federal states. Experienced lawyers often refer to a north-south divide, with Bavaria having the strictest interpretation of the BKatV (Penalty Catalog) for traffic violations. It is the most challenging place to avoid a potential ban from participating in public road traffic and converting it into a higher fine. The previously frequently used argument of “imminent destruction of livelihood” is rarely acknowledged today (see court ruling of the OLG Hamm). Instead, the focus of objections and legal appeals today is on errors in measuring equipment and the execution of measurements, as well as the quality of the photos.
It can also happen that a measuring device or measuring method regularly leads to successful objections in one federal state, while the courts (especially the state and higher regional courts) in other federal states have no objections to these measurements.
Furthermore, there are significant differences in the treatment of objections and legal appeals that question the unequivocal identification of the driver. The demand for expert opinions is often rejected as disproportionate. In some courts, however, doubts about the driver’s identity more frequently lead to the termination of proceedings.
Despite the nationwide validity of the penalty catalog, there cannot (yet) be assumed to be a uniform interpretation and high court jurisprudence. This complicates the assessment of the prospects of success for an objection for the person involved.
Points System and Driving Fitness Register
Registration, Warning, Penalty, and Driving License Withdrawal
The Driving Fitness Register of the Federal Motor Transport Authority functions like an account. If the maximum limit of 8 points is exceeded, the driving license will be withdrawn.
• With 1 to 3 points, there is a registration
• With 4 to 5 points, the authority issues a warning and usually informs affected drivers about the possibility of reducing one point through suitable training measures
• With 6 to 7 points, a penalty is issued with a recommendation to attend a driving fitness seminar
• With 8 points, the driving license is withdrawn
Point Catalog for the Driving Fitness Register
Expiration of Points
Until 2014, a different point system was in place, but it was replaced by the regulation described above. The expiration rules also changed with the reform of the points system. Until 2014, a new violation would interrupt the expiration of all points. Today, the following expiration periods apply to points in the Flensburg account:
• Registrations with 1 point (due to serious traffic offenses) expire after 2.5 years or 30 months
• Very serious offenses with 2 points expire after 5 years or 60 months
• Traffic offenses with 3 points expire after 10 years or 120 months
More than 8 million motor vehicle drivers have at least one point in the central driving register. However, the withdrawal of the driving license due to the accumulation of 8 points is very rare.
Reduction of Points
By voluntarily participating in a driving fitness seminar, 1 point can be reduced in the Flensburg points database – but only as long as the point total is less than 6 points. In addition, the individual must not have committed another offense that would lead to an additional point entry if they already have 5 points in their account. In this case, point reduction may be refused.
The goal of the driving fitness seminar is to bring about a sustainable change in behavior on the road. It consists of several modules, all of which must be completed:
• Two traffic education sessions (each lasting 90 minutes)
These sessions are conducted in small groups and are led by a driving instructor.
• Two traffic psychology sessions (each lasting 75 minutes)
These sessions are typically designed as individual sessions with a psychologist.
The individual is expected to gain insight into the causes and backgrounds of their traffic violations through the seminar, thereby gaining control over their future behavior.
The cost of a driving fitness seminar varies depending on the provider, ranging from 400 euros to over 700 euros. Point reduction through a seminar is only possible once every 5 years.
The Road Traffic Act (StVG) in §25 establishes the principle of when a driving ban is usually imposed. The principle states that serious or persistent violations are penalized not only with fines but also with driving bans ranging from 1 month to 3 months. The classification as a serious violation has significantly broadened with the StVO amendment from April 28, 2020.
Both the court and the traffic authority can impose a driving ban. The court is obligated to examine on a case-by-case basis whether the offense can be penalized with an increased fine or if it is mandatory to surrender the driver’s license.
In the penalty catalog, the specific offenses are listed that are regularly considered as “serious or persistent traffic violations.” If a traffic offense is to be reclassified as more serious in the future and classified as a serious or persistent violation, it is not necessary to change the law itself; only the penalty catalog needs to be amended.
Serious Traffic Violations (Examples):
• Exceeding the speed limit by more than 25 km/h outside of urban areas
• Exceeding the speed limit by more than 20 km/h within urban areas
• Running a red traffic light that has been red for more than 1 second (qualified red light violation)
• Following the vehicle in front at a distance of less than 3/10 of half the speedometer reading when traveling at speeds greater than 100 km/h
• Driving under the influence of alcohol with a blood alcohol content of 0.5 per mille or 0.25 mg/l of breath alcohol concentration
• Driving under the influence of illegal drugs
The mentioned serious violations are penalized with 1 – 2 points in the Flensburg database according to the point catalog. The statute of limitations for a violation with 1 point is 2.5 years, and for violations with 2 points, it is even 5 years. If there are no special circumstances, a driving ban is imposed. Even if the court, after considering the course of events, exceptionally refrains from imposing a driving ban, the points are still registered.
In addition to the serious traffic violations, the penalty catalog also provides for a standard driving ban if there are two instances of speeding by more than 25 km/h within one year. The punishment for the first offense can be considered a probationary driving ban.
If, starting from that day, another speeding violation of at least 26 km/h occurs within 12 months, it is considered a persistent breach of the duties as a vehicle operator, and in most cases, a one-month driving ban is imposed. Additionally, the fine for the second offense is appropriately increased.
If the offense is classified as the standard case, the court can impose the resulting driving ban without providing detailed justification as to why a higher fine would not be sufficient. However, it must always assess whether, given the circumstances of the offense, a standard case can be applied according to the provisions of the penalty catalog.
When a driving ban is imposed: When must the driver’s license be surrendered?
One of the most common questions related to driving bans concerns the timing of when the driver’s license must be surrendered. This is typically explicitly specified in the penalty notice. The rule is that, from the moment the penalty notice becomes legally binding, the individual has 4 months to begin serving the penalty – but only if the following conditions are met:
• In the two years prior to committing the traffic offense, no driving ban became legally binding.
• During the period between committing the traffic offense and the penalty decision, no driving ban from another traffic violation became legally binding.
If one of these two conditions is not met, then no grace period is granted to the individual. The ban begins as soon as the penalty notice becomes legally binding. In this case, the only way to delay the start is by filing legal appeals.
If the individual has been granted the 4-month grace period, they can freely decide within that period when they want to start serving the penalty. If they do not voluntarily surrender their driver’s license within these 4 months, they must commence the driving ban no later than the last day of the grace period. According to § 25 paragraph 5 StVG, however, the month only begins to elapse once the driver’s license is officially deposited. For this, the driver’s license must be submitted to the competent authority or sent there by registered mail.
The competent authority is:
• The penalty office if the ban was imposed by the penalty office.
• The public prosecutor’s office if the ban was ordered by a court.
If the individual also possesses an international driver’s license, it must also be surrendered. This applies to EU driver’s licenses as well, provided that the person has their residence in Germany. For other foreign driver’s licenses, a notation is made on the driver’s license. Alternatively, the individual can voluntarily surrender their driver’s license. During the driving ban, they are not allowed to operate any vehicle in Germany. Whether the license holder is allowed to drive in their home country or abroad during the driving ban period varies depending on the country.
After the ban expires, the driver’s license will be returned by the competent authority without the need for a special application, unlike in the case of a revoked driver’s license.
Penalty Catalogs in Europe
The German penalty catalog contains the most detailed regulations in all of Europe. In some neighboring countries, only a few offenses are precisely regulated. For example, in Austria, there is no nationally applicable penalty catalog; the administrations of the regions establish their own regulations. Moreover, the requirements for the burden of proof in traffic law vary significantly. In Austria, for instance, the police are allowed to estimate the speed of a vehicle (though only in very precisely justified and stipulated cases).
There are currently no known efforts to create a universally applicable penalty catalog across Europe, although this may be desirable in terms of transparency and safety. Fortunately, regulations in many areas are gradually becoming more harmonized across Europe.
However, there are so many different country-specific regulations that the establishment of a universally applicable European regulation is unlikely. Among other things, Germany would have to introduce a maximum speed limit on highways. Due to the significance of the automotive industry for Germany, such a step would be associated with significant economic risks that have so far been assessed by policymakers as too unpredictable.
Nonetheless, a significant alignment of traffic regulations and the procedures for their enforcement is desirable. The more aware and informed road users are about the applicable regulations and the potential penalties, the greater the likelihood of compliance. Fines are now enforceable across borders in Europe if the fine amount, plus administrative fees, exceeds 70 euros. In such cases, the judicial authorities of the neighboring country provide enforcement assistance. Therefore, it is no longer possible to simply ignore traffic fines from European countries. For traffic violations that affect road safety, such as speeding, running red lights, and alcohol-related offenses, authorities can now access the common European database “Eucaris” to quickly and easily determine the vehicle owner’s information.
You can find more details on the Eucaris website or at the Federal Motor Transport Authority on the Eucaris pages. This represents a significant step towards cross-border enforcement of traffic violations. However, it’s important to note that legal assistance and enforcement only apply to fines. Driving bans still apply only in the country where the violation occurred. If someone temporarily loses their driver’s license due to a significant traffic violation in a European country, they are still allowed to drive in other countries. Many countries confiscate the driver’s license when a serious traffic violation is detected, and the individual is no longer allowed to drive. Typically, they must apply for their license to be sent to the relevant authority in Germany (which can vary depending on the federal state). The reason for withholding the driver’s license is usually transmitted. German authorities acknowledge this information, but there are usually no further consequences for the driver. An exception is alcohol and drug offenses. In these cases, the authorities may consider whether a Medical-Psychological Assessment (MPU), sometimes colloquially referred to as an “idiot test,” should be ordered to assess the driver’s suitability to operate a vehicle.
For offenses committed abroad, drivers residing in Germany do not have to worry about entries in the German Flensburg traffic offender’s register. Such records are always national. Not all European countries have penalty catalogs for traffic offenders, and the systems vary significantly. Some countries, like Germany, provide for the revocation of the driver’s license when a certain point limit is reached. In other countries, drivers have a points balance from which points are deducted for traffic violations. When a driver has no more points left, they must surrender their driver’s license. In Austria, for certain violations, a notation is made. If another violation occurs within a specified time frame (usually two years), the driver’s license is revoked.
In the areas related to driver’s licenses (points, notations, driving bans), road users perceive the greatest injustices. While one driver loses their driver’s license for an offense, another driver can continue to drive in their home country and all other European countries for the same offense. They are only prohibited from driving in Germany during the specified period. This can be very burdensome for the affected individual in specific cases, while the penalty may hardly be significant in other cases.