German politicians are considering raising fines to almost €2,000 (£1,777) for drivers who fail to give way for emergency vehicles after a study found four out of five ambulance deployments were held up by an average of five minutes when trying to get through traffic.
Drivers’ failure to move aside to form a “rettungsgasse” or rescue lane in the middle of the road – a key rule to German motorway driving which motorists are taught when learning to drive – has been blamed on drivers looking at the incidents and filming them on their mobile phones.
The findings are from a survey carried out by Germany’s Red Cross (DRK) this summer, in which 96 rescue teams from across the country were questioned.
“These figures are horrendous,” said Gerda Hasselfeldt, the president of the DRK. “In particular when we’re talking about human life, in which every second counts.”
Following a nationwide debate about the increase in the number of deaths on German motorways, which was attributed to the growth in rubbernecking and the failure to form the rescue lanes, penalties were raised a year ago, from €20 to €320. Culprits risk losing their licence.
The increase in rubbernecking is being blamed on social media and a growing obsession with stopping to film or photograph accident sites on mobile phones. Last year, 18 people died in a bus fire on a motorway in Münchberg, with rescue workers in part blaming car drivers’ failure to let them through, largely due to those who were filming the inferno.
In Bavaria, one police unit wrote an impassioned appeal to drivers: “Please respect the dignity of the dead and injured! Desist from filming videos and taking photos of accident scenes and spreading them on social media.
Not only are you distracting yourselves and could cause further accidents, you should think about what if your family and friends were in the accident? How would you feel if you found out about the death of someone close to you from social media?”
Politicians are discussing an increase in the fine in the hope of improving drivers’ behaviour. Boris Pistorius, the interior minister for the state of Lower Saxony, told the Neue Osnabrücker newspaper:
“Should we establish that the current level of penalty is not helping, we must consider further rises.”