Paper from the Ministry of Justice: lighter penalties for hit-and-run accidents?


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Status: 04/25/2023 3:42 p.m

Anyone who leaves the scene of an accident without permission commits a criminal offense under current law. The Ministry of Justice is now proposing that hit-and-run drivers be punished less severely in the future – provided that there is only property damage.

The Federal Ministry of Justice is considering decriminalizing hit-and-run cases in which no one is harmed. Like from one of the ARD Capital Studio According to the present paper from the ministry led by Minister of Justice Marco Buschmann (FDP), hit-and-run accidents should in future be classified as an administrative offense instead of a criminal offense – provided there is only damage to property. The ministry sent the document shortly after Easter with a request for comments to professional associations.

So far, the unauthorized removal of those involved from the scene of an accident can be punished with a fine or imprisonment of up to three years. According to the plans of the Ministry of Justice, this regulation will only apply to accidents involving personal injury in the future.

As soon as there are physically injured people, it is always necessary “to remain at the scene of the accident and to identify yourself as a party involved in the accident,” the paper says.

Proposal for a reporting requirement

Previously, those involved in an accident had to wait a “reasonable amount of time” at the scene of the accident. As an alternative to this, the Ministry of Justice is now bringing the establishment of a reporting obligation and reporting office into play.

“It would be conceivable, for example, to report using a standardized online mask, possibly also with images of the scene of the accident and the damage to be uploaded, or a damage report to be fixed on the damaged vehicle, which, if carried out properly, would not constitute an act,” the paper says. Reports to the police should still be possible.

“Historically obsolete offenses”

“In the coalition agreement, it was agreed that criminal law should be systematically examined for manageability, justification and inconsistencies. The focus should be on historically outdated criminal offenses, the modernization of criminal law and the rapid relief of the judiciary,” said the Ministry of Justice on the proposals that have become public with.

Against this background, it is examined, among other things, to what extent there is a need for action in connection with an unauthorized removal from the scene of an accident according to § 142 StGB. “It is important for the Federal Ministry of Justice to also include the arguments of relevant associations in its considerations,” it said. “A decision as to whether and how a possible adjustment will be made has not yet been made.”

Proposal met with mixed reactions

Associations and politicians reacted with surprise to the proposals that had become public. It is particularly important for the insurers not to restrict the possibilities of preserving evidence. “The cause and course of the accident must be able to be determined without a doubt,” says Jörg Asmussen, General Manager of the German Insurance Association. This applies, for example, to the question of whether alcohol or drugs were involved. The driving ability of the person who caused the accident can only be determined immediately after the accident,” said Asmussen.

“I am surprised and doubt the seriousness of the Minister of Justice’s proposal,” said Canan Bayram, a Green Party politician. She wonders whether Buschmann might “light smoke candles to avoid unpleasant questions” ahead of tomorrow’s government poll in the Bundestag plenary session. Her party colleague Konstantin von Notz tweeted ironically that he found it “really remarkable that the FDP wants to decriminalize car damage”.

Federal patchwork quilt warning

The German Association of Judges (DRB) ruled that, from the point of view of judicial practice, there was “no reason to downgrade unauthorized removal from the scene of an accident in cases without personal injury to an administrative offence”. According to DRB Federal Managing Director Sven Rebehn, the penal provision has proven its worth and offers the courts sufficient leeway to punish legal violations in a manner appropriate to the offense and to blame.

On the other hand, the proposal to introduce an obligation to report as an alternative to the obligation to wait after an accident is worth considering. However, digital paths would have to be set up for this that were reliable and easily accessible. “A federal patchwork quilt in which each federal state or even each district develops its own technical solution would certainly be fatal for acceptance (…),” warned Rebehn.

Most recently, about a quarter of all criminal offenses prosecuted in Germany related to traffic.

With information from Eva Huber and Lothar Lenz, ARD capital studio

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