Every driver knows the situation: you are on the highway or in a closed city, you are in a hurry, and the car in front of you is calmly driving in the passing lane without clearing it. If you lose patience in such situations, tailgate and additionally flash your lights or honk your horn, you run the risk of being prosecuted for coercion in traffic.
Attorney Dietrich will provide you with helpful information on the topic of "Coercion in Road Traffic" below and provide you with an overview of these issues in particular:
- What constitutes coercion in the criminal law sense?
- When can one speak of violence in road traffic?
- Does "tailgating" in traffic constitute coercion?
- Does "tailgating" another vehicle make you liable to prosecution for coercion?
- Is it a punishable offence not to leave the overtaking lane on the freeway??
- Can I be liable to prosecution if I obstruct another vehicle by cutting it off while passing it?
- Does the offense of coercion also cover blocking the roadway, entrances, exits or passages?
- What is the legal situation if a pedestrian keeps a parking space free in which I want to park and can I be liable to prosecution as a pedestrian under Section 240 of the Criminal Code if I block the way of a vehicle?
- When is conduct contrary to traffic regulations to be considered a threat of serious harm??
- When is conduct contrary to traffic regulations reprehensible in the sense of § 240 para. 2 StGB?
- Can I commit a coercion also negligently?
- What penalty do I face for coercion in road traffic??
- What other consequences do I face if convicted of coercion in traffic??
- I am confronted with the accusation of coercion in road traffic by the law enforcement authorities. What can I do now?
What is a coercion in the criminal sense?
Despite recurring debates, there is no special traffic law offence for coercion in road traffic. Rather, the "normal" coercion facts of § 240 StGB must be resorted to. Thereafter, according to § 240 para. 1 StGB punishable,
whoever unlawfully compels a person to do, tolerate or refrain from an act by force or by threat of a grievous evil.
In addition, the act must be unlawful. When this is the case regulates Abs. 2, which reads as follows:
The act is unlawful if the use of force or the threat of force for the intended purpose is to be considered reprehensible.
When can one speak of force in road traffic?
In principle, the term "force" as defined in Section 240 of the Criminal Code means physical coercion that is intended and suitable for overcoming a given or expected resistance, either through the use of force or through physical action of some other kind. Since physical action is not necessarily required, the concept of violence can also include behavior in road traffic. In order to do this, however, they must cause physical coercion of the victim. This is assumed when a dangerous situation is created that is likely to put an average driver in such anxiety and fear that he feels compelled to subordinate his will to that of the coercer.
Does "tailgating" in road traffic constitute coercion??
Distressed driving in relation to the vehicle in front, where the required safe distance is substantially reduced in order to get the other driver to clear the lane, can constitute coercion.
However, since not every failure to observe the safety distance is to be covered by Section 240 of the Criminal Code, merely tailgating does not constitute an offense. In fact, coercion through the use of force only exists if the act of tailgating is of some duration and great intensity. The court takes into account all the circumstances of the individual case, as well as the speed of the vehicles, the distances between them and the duration and intensity of the tailgating.
It is also decisive that the actions of the tailgating driver are capable of putting an average motorist in "fear and terror", whereby the view of an objective observer is taken into account. This is because such a coercive effect can have such a physical impact on the coerced person that he or she becomes nervous and unsafe to drive. This driving insecurity can in turn cause him to react unintentionally, which can also be dangerous for all other road users, for example if the coerced person has to brake considerably or swerve suddenly.
If, therefore, the vehicle is tailgated for several kilometers and the headlight flasher or horn is also operated, so that the coerced person can no longer behave in any other way than to make way, this will generally constitute coercion.
On the other hand, tailgating on distances of less than 100 meters is generally not sufficient. In the same way, at low speeds (80 km/h and less) a single approach lasting only a few seconds up to 2 meters and driving behind at a distance of 15 meters does not fulfill the elements of the crime.
Since these principles apply just as much in inner-city traffic, the person who over a distance of just under 300m drives up so close that the person in front can no longer see the license plate as well as the radiator grille of the pursuing vehicle and the person driving up constantly uses the headlight flasher and a few times the horn in order to get the person in front to clear the lane is also liable to prosecution for attempted coercion.
If the so-called "braking out" of another vehicle makes one liable to prosecution for coercion?
The mirror-image behavior of tailgating is the deliberate obstruction of the person behind by the person in front. This so-called "slowing down" of the person behind may well constitute coercion in road traffic.
It is recognized that force is present at least in those constellations in which the driver in front brakes fully, forcing the following driver to stop. In addition, criminal coercion is presumed if the driver in front greatly reduces his speed without a traffic-related reason, thereby forcing the driver of the following vehicle to drive at an unreasonably low speed. However, the decisive factor for the assumption of coercion in this case constellation is that the driver of the following vehicle cannot take evasive action or overtake and thus cannot escape the imposed behavior of the vehicle in front.
Accordingly, the Bavarian Higher Regional Court assumed criminal coercion in a case in which the defendant had placed himself in front of a truck and reduced its speed over a distance of one kilometer from 92 km/h to 42 km/h, forcing the truck to slow down.
Is it a punishable offence not to leave the overtaking lane on the freeway??
The principle that in most cases the offence of coercion is fulfilled, in which a motorist forces his follower to slow down by purposeful behavior, is not to be transferred without further ado to the person who does not clear the overtaking lane on the freeway. First of all, a motorist who drives in the overtaking lane longer than required by the traffic situation violates the right-hand driving requirement of § 2 para. 2 of the Road Traffic Regulations (StVO). Even if he has prevented other road users from overtaking, he is usually held accountable for the violation of the traffic regulations alone, and thus commits only an administrative offense.
However, such behavior can also be classified as coercion. According to case law, this should only be the case if, in addition to the planned prevention of being overtaken, there are aggravating circumstances with such a special weight that the behavior of the driver in front "has the stigma of being morally reprehensible, reprehensible and socially intolerable". This moral flaw is present, for example, in the case of persistent driving on the left on an open highway at only moderate speed, if overtaking is thereby to be prevented, or in the case of deliberate slow driving and sudden left turns, and can only be assessed by taking into account all the circumstances of the individual case.
Can I commit a criminal offense if I obstruct another vehicle by cutting it off during the overtaking maneuver?
As a rule, coercion also occurs when one vehicle is pulled directly in front of another, so that the overtaken driver must brake sharply or in turn pull the vehicle over to the right or left. Reckless overtaking in an effort to make faster progress can also be punishable if the person being overtaken had to brake sharply in order to prevent an accident. Furthermore, the so-called "column jumping" can be punishable if the oncoming or overtaken vehicle is forced to brake.
Does the concept of coercion also include blocking the lane, entrances, exits or passages??
If a vehicle is used as an obstacle by which other vehicles are prevented from proceeding, this constitutes use of force by causing a physical obstruction and thus coercion in traffic. However, the physical barrier must be of a certain duration, so that it is not punishable, for example, to block a passage for only a few minutes. Likewise, there is no coercion if the blocking condition is unknowingly or unintentionally caused by the driver. was brought about unintentionally. However, if it is noticed, it must be stopped immediately, otherwise there is coercion.
What is the legal situation if a pedestrian holds a parking space free in which I want to park and can I make myself punishable as a pedestrian under § 240 StGB (German Criminal Code) if I block the way of a vehicle?
In general, with regard to the use of a parking space, the priority principle applies, according to which it is decisive who reaches it first with his vehicle. On the other hand, it does not matter who has discovered it first or can enter it because he has maneuvered his vehicle in such a way that he only has to back up.
The right of way to a parking space belongs exclusively to a motorist and not to a pedestrian. Although the pedestrian is not allowed to reserve a parking space, you cannot drive towards him without committing a crime of coercion. For even if you have a right, i.e. a position capable of self-defense, vis-A-vis the pedestrian, its enforcement is not required because of the gross disproportion of the means used.
Thus, coercion is assumed if the parking is forced by driving towards the parking attendant who wants to block the parking space, and the attendant is injured in the process. On the other hand, there is no coercion if a motorist drives slowly towards a pedestrian and stops several times to give him the opportunity to move aside. However, this was only assumed because the pedestrian was neither endangered nor injured.
A pedestrian who wants to prevent a vehicle from continuing by his mere physical presence is not liable to prosecution for coercion. Therefore, blocking the roadway for demonstration purposes is just as little punishable as keeping a parking space free. On the other hand, the facts of the case are fulfilled if the pedestrian, after blocking the way, lies down on the hood of the car, because he hereby exerts force that represents physical coercion for the car driver.
When is conduct contrary to traffic regulations to be regarded as a threat of a grievous evil??
If the conduct contrary to traffic regulations does not constitute the use of force, the decisive factor for its classification as coercion in road traffic is whether it is a threat of a serious evil. For this purpose, a future evil must be in prospect, the occurrence of which the threatening party has or purports to have influence on.
Since present inflictions of evil are not covered by this alternative, a threat can generally only be assumed if, for example, the person tailgating threatens to ram the vehicle in front of him. Also conceivable is the case constellation in which an abstract danger is created by tailgating, which is continued for a longer period of time in such a way that the person in front swerves and gives up. The sensitive evil in this situation would have to be seen as at least a temporary perpetuation of the dangerous situation. More often, however, it is likely to be coercion through the use of force in the case of conduct contrary to traffic regulations in the above-mentioned groups of cases.
When is conduct contrary to traffic regulations reprehensible in the sense of § 240 para. 2 StGB?
The reprehensibility clause of § 240 para. 2 StGB serves to avoid prosecution for petty offenses. Behavior is classified as reprehensible if it is socially and ethically reprehensible, i.e. if it is perceived as socially intolerable by any reasonable third party. The court carries out a comprehensive overall assessment in which all objective and subjective circumstances of the case are taken into account.
In addition, it must be noted that criminal law may only be used if it is not a trivial matter, which can be covered with the help of administrative offenses. This de minimis range is usually exceeded if there is concrete danger or if persons have even been injured, although this is not mandatory.
Furthermore, the motives of the acting party are of essential importance for the verdict of reprehensibility. For example, harassing driving behavior without reasonable cause may be considered objectionable. In contrast, in the case of cutting off another, there is no reprehensible conduct if the person overtaking fears that he or she will not be able to return to the passing lane after cutting in because of heavy traffic.
Can I commit a coercion also negligently?
In order to be liable to prosecution for coercion according to § 240 StGB, negligent actions are not sufficient. According to this, the elements of the crime are only fulfilled if the person acting is aware of his conduct in violation of traffic regulations and has accepted the associated danger.
What penalty do I face for coercion in road traffic?
The law provides for a prison sentence of up to three years or a fine for coercion. Decisive for the assessment of the penalty are, among other things, the severity of the offense, the damage caused, the manner in which the coercion was committed, as well as traffic violations committed in the past.
What further consequences do I face in the event of a conviction for coercion in road traffic??
In the case of a conviction for coercion, the court can order the revocation of the driver's license according to § 69 para. 1 StGB, if the act was committed in connection with driving a motor vehicle or in violation of the duties of a motor vehicle driver. This will regularly be the case in the event of coercion in road traffic.
The revocation of the driver's license becomes effective when the judgment becomes final, but can also be initiated by the provisional revocation of the driver's license pursuant to § 111a StPO. However, in order to be able to temporarily revoke your driving license, there must be reasons for the court to actually order the revocation with its verdict. If the order for a provisional revocation of the driver's license was made pursuant to Section 111a of the Code of Criminal Procedure, this authorizes the police to confiscate her driver's license.
In addition, the court can block the issuance of a new driver's license in accordance with § 69a StGB for a period of six months to five years. The ordering of such a period of disqualification is even possible if you do not have a driving license. If the revocation of the driving license according to § 69 StGB is ordered with the judgment, the period of the provisional revocation is credited to the duration of the ban period.
I am confronted with the accusation of coercion in road traffic by the criminal prosecution authorities. What can I do now?
Due to the sometimes very confusing and generous handling of the facts of coercion in road traffic by the jurisdiction, you should immediately contact a lawyer. As a rule, the court will first request access to the files in order to check what the prosecution authorities are accusing you of and whether this accusation can be substantiated at all. He will deal with the current case law and then assess whether your behavior meets the criteria of coercion. Only after a conversation with your lawyer should you, in consultation with him, testify to the matter or exercise your right to remain silent.
Often, in cases of coercion in road traffic, there is the possibility of dropping the case before it comes to an indictment by the public prosecutor's office. However, even in cases where the prosecution can prove that you were driving, it is advisable to contact a criminal defense attorney who is knowledgeable in traffic law. This can negotiate with the prosecution and the court at eye level and protect your rights in the process. Thus, depending on the accusation, he can obtain a discontinuation of the proceedings even during the main hearing and present mitigating circumstances for the sentencing.
If you have any questions or would like to make an appointment for a consultation, please feel free to contact attorney Dietrich at the following address. Mr. Dietrich will then discuss with you and individually address the problems of your case.