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There are many international travelers and tourists that enjoy driving cars on Germany's Autobahn every day, some of them would be unaware that running out of gas on the autobahn is illegal.

Although I have visited Germany twice and always traveled with trains and buses there, I just came to know after reading a few articles that parking a car on the Autobahn with an empty tank is illegal.

Autobahn picture

Question: What happens if a tourist runs out of gas on the Autobahn and isn't aware of German autobahn law? How to cope with this situation?

Can drivers finding themselves in this predicament be subject to fines? Is penalty the same for everyone regardless of nationality?

  • 22
    As a curiosity, nobody has actually answered the question, which is about tourists. Answer - YES this is totally illegal FOR TOURISTS. Exactly as for locals. – Fattie Oct 18 '16 at 20:12
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    Most laws in most countries have the same penalty regardless of nationality. – user29850 Oct 19 '16 at 4:26
  • 8
    We are chinese and 2 years ago we run out of gas driving near Nuremberg. We were coming from Prague. It took us 30 minutes or more to get to petrol station. We walked and bought a can with gas and a nice old lady dropped us to our car. Nothing happened – user52684 Oct 19 '16 at 10:51
  • 6
    @DaChun Of course when there are no officers around to fine you, there is now way for you to get a fine. But it still is illegal. – Summer Oct 19 '16 at 11:03
  • 10
    Is it legal to run out of gas on any highway around the world? – JonathanReez Oct 19 '16 at 14:23
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It is illegal to run out of gas on the Autobahn according to the German StVO (Straßenverkehrsordnung) which is the road traffic regulations in Germany. The fine can be from €30 up to €70 depending on the case.

The reason why it is illegal is that stopping on the highway due to insufficient petrol can be avoided and is a human error and therefore punishable.

Normally stopping on the highway in case of a breakdown has no fee but because this can be avoided and the driver has to make sure it does not happen it costs money.

It's worth mentioning that if you are a member of ADAC and call them (equivalent of AA, road service), and you are lucky and they get there before someone like the police gets there, they are able to sell you some petrol and you get out of it without a fine from the police.

It's under § 18 StVO (Autobahn und Kraftfahrstraße)

German

TBNR / FALL / STRAFE

118178 / Sie hielten auf der Autobahn/Kraftfahr­straße. / 30€
118704 / Sie parkten auf der Autobahn/Kraftfahr­straße. / 70€
118705 / Sie parkten auf der Autobahn/Kraftfahr­straße und gefährdeten dadurch Andere. / 85€
118706 / Sie parkten auf der Autobahn/Kraftfahr­straße. Es kam zum Unfall. / 105€

English

TBNR / CASE / FINE

118178 / Stop (< 3 minutes) on the highway / €30
118704 / Parking (> 3 minutes) on the highway / €70
118705 / Parking (> 3 minutes) on the highway and putting others into danger / €85
118706 / Parking (> 3 minutes) on the highway with a following accident / €105

Worth mentioning that there is no difference between tourists or locals in that case, meaning either one will be punished.

Source

  • 28
    Good answer. There's no law that says "you cannot run out of fuel on the Autobahn". However, you are not allowed to park your vehicle on the Autobahn. Of course exceptions are being made for emergencies (driver/co-driver gets sick, or something like that), but if it can be avoided, you shouldn't stop or even park. And since it's so easy to check your fuel, it's avoidable and you will get fined if you run out of gas. Same is true for urban traffic: If you interfere with the traffic it is possible that you will get fined. "Interference" can also mean: Running out of gas so you have to stop/park. – waka Oct 18 '16 at 14:08
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    I doubt the fact that "it's human error" makes it punishable. There are lots of avoidable errors that humans make that aren't punished. I suspect it's more about the fact that it's extremely dangerous stopping on the Autobahn, both to the occupants of the car and others who might crash into it at high speeds. – Berwyn Oct 18 '16 at 14:40
  • 23
    While this answer is technically correct ("the best kind of correct"), police, if they happen to come along at all, very often has better things to do than to fine you. My father got away with an overloaded camper trailer, out of gas, blocking traffic in the right lane in the middle of a lengthy autobahn construction site (so no shoulder, narrow lanes). Police pulled up behind him, secured the lane, helped him to partly unload the trunk to get to the canister, duly waited until he had everything back in and the petrol in the tank, and just wished him farewell when the car would start again. – Alexander Oct 18 '16 at 15:09
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    Similarly a few acquaintances of mine (US tourists) ran out of gas on the Autobahn. Two of them walked the highway to the nearest gas station and the other two waited in the car. I believe they got about half way there when an officer saw them, drove them to the station, got the gas, and drove them back to the car. The officer told them that they were lucky it hadn't been one of the mean officers that found them otherwise they would've fined them right then and there. It seems likely that it really depends on which officers find you and their mood. – Coburn Oct 18 '16 at 15:20
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    I am not sure if this answer is correct. The expressions 'halten' and 'parken' (stop and park) are clearly defined in the German traffic law. A 'stop' is an intentional interruption of the ride not caused by traffical circumstances or command (VwV-StVO § 12) and 'parking' is defined as 'stopping' for more than 3 minutes or leaving the vehicle. If your vehicle ceases to move unintentionally you are not 'stopping' in the sence of the StVO. AFAIK, running out of gas on the autobahn is usually punished as a violation of § 23 StVO (failure to exercise due diligence). – Tor-Einar Jarnbjo Oct 18 '16 at 16:01
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As Klettseb already wrote in his answer, you can actually get fined for running out of fuel in Germany, but his explanation of the legal basis and the list of expected fines are incorrect.

To avoid different interpretations of the colloquial terms 'halten' (stop) and 'parken' (park), the German traffic law uses narrow and precise definitions:

Halten ist eine gewollte Fahrtunterbrechung, die nicht durch die Verkehrslage oder eine Anordnung veranlaßt ist. VwV-StVO § 12 (1)

Wer sein Fahrzeug verlässt oder länger als drei Minuten hält, der parkt. StVO § 12 (2)

Translated to English:

Stopping is an intentional interruption of the ride not caused by traffic circumstances or command.

Whoever leaves his vehicle or stops for more than 3 minutes is parking.

As you can see, both terms are intentional actions. If your vehicle stops moving due to some unintentional circumstance, you are by the definition of the German traffic law neither 'stopping' nor 'parking'.

Running out of fuel is instead fined as a violation of StVO § 23. A vehicle operator is expected to make sure that the vehicle he is operating is in a suitable technical condition for the intended ride and running out of gas is considered a violation of this requirement. The regular fine is €25 (TBNR 123112), but it can be increased to €80 (TBNR 123600) if you substantially impair traffic safety or to €120 (TBNR 123601) if you cause an accident.

  • 2
    Running out of gas is unintentional if your car gives you warnings that you run low on gas? – Klettseb Oct 18 '16 at 20:47
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    @Klettseb Yes, running out of gas is not intentional. It might not be unexpected, but it is not necessarily intenional. In any case it does not matter, since the relevant question is if the 'Fahrtunterbrechung' is 'gewollt'. – Tor-Einar Jarnbjo Oct 18 '16 at 21:22
  • Are there any known cases where the driver was punished for running out of fuel as a violation of StVO § 23? Or if you follow the normal emergency procedure - use emergency lane, emergency triangle, call the service, you'll be OK? Of course using service will cost you heavily... – Rg7x gW6a cQ3g Oct 20 '16 at 10:47
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    @9ilsdx9rvj0lo Google "benzin stvo § 23" and you will find plenty of discussions relating to real cases. – Tor-Einar Jarnbjo Oct 20 '16 at 13:33
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    Note that breakdown is possibly punishable, too. If you are aware of impendent conditions that may affect the vehicle's correct operation, you are required to withdraw it from traffic immediately, using the shortest possible route. Which means that if e.g. the motor already makes strange noises, you aren't allowed to drive onto an Autobahn at all (since you may not stop there, and it is arguably to be anticipated that this may happen due to breakdown). – Damon Oct 20 '16 at 13:46
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The questions from the OP are:

  1. What happens if a tourist runs out of gas on the autobahn and not aware of German autobahn law, how to cope with this situation?

  2. Drivers finding themselves in this predicament can be subject to fines?

  3. Penalty is same for everyone regardless of nationality?

The key point in question is, naturally, the Latin phrase ignorantia legis non excusat — not knowing about a law does not excuse and does not prevent punishment (in German, the phrase is often cited ‘Unwissenheit schützt vor Strafe nicht’, which explicitly includes the punishment). This is also relevant to contraventions and most ‘illegal’ things relevant to drivers and driving are contraventions. § 11 of the Ordnungswidrigkeitsgesetz (OWiG, contravention law) reads:

§ 11 Irrtum

  1. Wer bei Begehung einer Handlung einen Umstand nicht kennt, der zum gesetzlichen Tatbestand gehört, handelt nicht vorsätzlich. Die Möglichkeit der Ahndung wegen fahrlässigen Handelns bleibt unberührt.
  2. Fehlt dem Täter bei Begehung der Handlung die Einsicht, etwas Unerlaubtes zu tun, namentlich weil er das Bestehen oder die Anwendbarkeit einer Rechtsvorschrift nicht kennt, so handelt er nicht vorwerfbar, wenn er diesen Irrtum nicht vermeiden konnte.

Loosely, this translates to:

  1. Who at the time of infraction is not aware of a circumstance that belongs to the offense is not acting with intent. The possibility of penalties due to neglecting behaviour remains.

  2. If at the time of infraction the offender does not realise they are doing something illegal because they did not know about the existence or applicability of a regulation, they cannot be penalised if they couldn’t avoid the error.

So which paragraphs actually apply? For one, there is § 18(8) of the Straßenverkehrsordnung (StVO, traffic code), which disallows stopping on motorways. This includes parking. There is also § 18(9) which forbids pedestrians entering the motorway. For these, the Bußgeldkatalog (penalty catalog) defines the fines of €30 (stopping), €70 (parking) and €10 (entering as a pedestrian). Since these values are defined in annex 1, (fahrlässig begangene Ordnungswidrigkeiten — carelessly committed contraventions) § 11(1) of the OWiG does not apply.

§ 11(2) applies if you could not under reasonable circumstances have found out about the existence of such a law. However, that doesn’t apply at all. Since there was no exceptional haste involved in renting a car/travelling to Germany, you could have, under reasonable circumstances, found out about the rule that disallows you stopping on a motorway and leaving your car. You are expectet to read up on travel regulations before you enter a country. This is akin to being required to know that in Germany a red traffic light means ‘stop’ and not ‘stop, but if you want to make a right turn proceed cautiously’. So § 11(2) won’t help you, as many internet sources including this one state. In theory, the fine applies.

In practice, the police often have better things to do than to check up on a car that is standing on the sideline. They have all reason to assume just a regular breakdown. Since you cannot evade a breakdown if it happens, you cannot be liable to pay a fine in that case. Thus, chances are high that you will get away with it. Unless of course the police see you refilling from your jerrycan — if they catch you doing that it is very likely that you are wrongdoing. Be prepared for questioning and a good excuse.

The best (and safest) strategy if you ran into the situation is to call a service car to tow you to the next petrol station (or off the motorway; whichever is quicker — note that an additional fine applies for not leaving the motorway at the earliest possible moment when towing). If one is just in sight, you can attempt to get away with walking over there, buying a 5 litre jerrycan and filling your car with that.

Naturally though, the prime strategy is not to run into the situation at all. Every petrol station on the motorway will be accompanied by a sign noting the distance to the next one, giving you enough time to decide whether you want to risk it. And of course, it is least hassle to just not run into the situation altogether.

The above text should have answered the first and second question. For the third, different fines for different nationalities would be a violation of the European anti-discrimination act if European nationalities are involved — this is the key point why the currently discussed road toll cannot be implemented in its current form. Regardless of European legislation, any differentiation according to nationality (except where something only applies to foreign nationals per se) would be considered discriminatory and likely not make it past the constitutional court. So yes, in theory all fines applicable are the same for everybody regardless of nationality.

  • 3
    Regarding your last sentence: If the police officer on duty decided to report the offence, you would almost certainly be fined (and you would be a fool to contest it). – TonyK Oct 19 '16 at 16:32
  • The interpretation of § 11 (2) at least is way off. In reality, it is about not knowing the law and whether that could or could not have been avoided. (In almost all cases, it is considered avoidable; people are generally required to read up on the rules beforehand.) – chirlu Oct 20 '16 at 8:17
  • @chirlu Rereading the paragraph, I see that you are correct. I modified the corresponding parts of the answer and hope it is better now. – Jan Oct 20 '16 at 16:31
  • The service car you call will sell you some petrol. No need to tow your car. :-) – Martin Schröder Oct 21 '16 at 8:30
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The previous replied pointed out that motorists must take proper care of their vehicle to avoid hazards, which includes watching the fuel gauge.

That being said, the police are allowed to prioritize how they deal with minor infractions if there are too many to handle, and all German police forces have problems with accumulated overtime. So they may decide to ignore the infraction. Or they may not.

  • 3
    Regarding any police traffic action anywhere in the world: the police may let you off. Sure. The question is not even "is it legal". The OP's actual question is: This is illegal. Is it also illegal for foreigners? Answer - of course. – Fattie Oct 18 '16 at 20:10
  • I think it would be useful to know that they frequently decide to ignore the infraction (and, perhaps, some idea of how frequently). Just saying it is possible isn't really adding anything valuable. – Joe Oct 19 '16 at 2:34
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    @JoeBlow, I wanted to put the anecdotal reports into their legal context. I can't provide the statistics the other Joe asked for, mostly because there can be no firm count how often infractions are ignored. – o.m. Oct 19 '16 at 4:55
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The basic assumption of the question seems to be that German (or any other) law distinguishes between tourists and other subjects.

I am not aware of any country with such a distinction.

Of course, the actual enforcement of a given law might differ for a tourist, but this does not happen at the level of the law.

  • 1
    The idea behind the question is probably that a tourist from a less developed nation, like Burkina Faso or India, where the road rules are quite different, may not be aware of this law. The question then becomes whether ignorance of a law may be an alleviating circumstance. – Nzall Oct 19 '16 at 9:12
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    @Nzall ignorance of a law may be an alleviating circumstance Never, otherwise everybody would claim ignorance of the law (even German people "Maybe I knew that 20 years ago when I was preparing my driving licence exam, but I must have forgotten it because now I don't remember anything at all about that law, your honor.") – SJuan76 Oct 19 '16 at 10:59
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    @SJuan76 As a citizen of a state, you are obviously assumed to know the laws of that state. However, if you're a tourist from a far off country (subsaharan Africa, Southeast Asia) where the laws are quite different, you may not know about the laws in Germany, and you may have a more lenient punishment because the laws in your country don't have a law like that. – Nzall Oct 19 '16 at 12:26
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    Just for one example of a country that distinguishes, UK law distinguishes between residents and non-residents in laws related to motoring (although probably doesn't distinguish tourists from other non-residents). For one example of a distinction it makes, a non-resident can drive on a license from pretty much any country, whereas a resident has a 12-month grace period and then is required to pass the UK driving test and drive only on a UK license. A dull example of an administrative distinction, but there's no principle to prevent legislators writing laws that treat furriners differently. – Steve Jessop Oct 19 '16 at 22:08
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    @Nzall That's not necessarily correct. If you travel to a foreign country, you are expected to know their laws. – Tim Malone Oct 20 '16 at 18:25
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The penalty is the same for everybody, regardless of their nationality.

But in practice the decision on whether to enforce the penalty is up to the police officer at the scene. For a minor infraction like this, it really depends on their mood as much as anything else. Some police officers would tend to be more lenient towards foreigners; some might tend to be less lenient. As always, the best approach is to be polite and apologetic.

Anyway, what excuse could you give? "I wouldn't have run out of fuel if I'd known it was illegal"? That is not at all convincing!

5

I'd like to address the possibility to run out of gas on the German Autobahn, since nobody seems to include this in their answers and most comments were deleted.

The chances of you running out of gas on german roads is very small. Just pay attention while driving and get gas early. Every gas station along the highways has a sign that says how long it will take before you will meet another gas station. This was you can determine wether or not you need to stop right now, or later on on the trip.

So in my opinion a good second question is; 'How likely is it I will run out of gas on the German Autobahn?' and my answer to that is: Very unlikely, if you pay attention and don't wait until the very last moment to refuel.

protected by JonathanReez Oct 19 '16 at 14:22

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