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NMA E-Newsletter #275: Driving in Germany—A View from the Windshield

Posted on April 21st, 2014 in , , , , , | Comments Off

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Editor’s Note: In
last week’s newsletter a member provided helpful insights about driving overseas. This week, NMA board member Eric Berg shares observations about driving in Germany. He makes important points regarding driver training requirements in Germany compared with those in the United States. The Germans take their driving training seriously, which pays off in lower fatality rates, even on the famously fast Autobahn system. Eric points out that German police target driver behavior that obstructs smooth traffic flow, rather than fixate on speed.

Perhaps it is time for mandatory enhanced U.S. driver training programs that focus on core driving skills. The other half of the “fahrvergnügen” equation is to implement enlightened enforcement practices that promote efficient traffic flow, not restrict it.

I lived four years in Germany and with the exception of Turkey, I have visited the other countries mentioned in last week’s newsletter. That newsletter got me thinking about the skill of German drivers and how their rigorous training prepares them for a lifetime of safe driving.

Driving school (Fahrschule) in Germany costs between $2,000 and $3,000; it wasn’t taught in the high schools. As a result, motorists were much better educated, and they valued their driver license (Führerschein) more than U.S. drivers do.

German highways seemed to have fewer regulatory road signs because everyone knew the rules of the road. Many intersections were unsigned because all drivers knew who had the right of way: Right before left (rechts vor links) and the priority road concept (Vorfahrtstraßen) meant that fewer signs had to be posted. Go here or here for more rules of the road.

You never passed on the right. After I returned to the United States, it took several months before I could bring myself to pass on the right.

The first time I passed the German police (Polizei) at 100+ mph, I instinctively slowed, only to have my doors blown off by the faster drivers behind. The cop never even looked at me, or the faster drivers. He was intent on the side-by-side drivers slowing the two right-most lanes ahead of both of us.

In Germany, if you became impatient with a slow driver in the left lane, you simply turned on your left blinker, and usually the slow driver would awaken and move right. If that didn’t work, flashing your lights did work. Sometimes a Mercedes or Porsche would begin flashing its headlights a quarter mile behind a slower driving because the closing speed was so significant. Most shocking of all is when you were driving as fast as you dare in the rain, and a motorcycles passed you!

Fog lights were to be used only when there was fog or when wet roads kicked up blinding spray. The only time the police took notice of me on die Autobahn was when I had my rear fog lights turned on inappropriately. The police pulled in directly behind me and flashed his own forward facing fog lights until I turned mine off, and then he left to go about other business. Never mind that we both were travelling 110 mph. Speed wasn’t the issue.

Germans spend about a third of their time scrutinizing their mirrors. When following a vehicle, you actually make eye contact in the rearview mirror. At intersections, you know the other driver saw you because you made eye contact.

All of my observations are based on the 1987-1991 time period. When I arrived, the Cold War was still as cold as ever. I departed after East and West Germany were reunited. The transition period was chaotic on the roadways, especially on die Autobahn. Thousands of Trabants, Time Magazine’s worst car of all time (“the car that gave Communism a bad name.”), and Wartburgs, with only seven moving parts: three pistons, three connecting rods and one crankshaft, were unleashed upon die Autobahn, driven by amateur drivers and leaving behind smoke screens. Those East German drivers made even American drivers look good by comparison.

In addition, the advent of the European Union, which happened after I returned to the United States, has change the driving landscape completely.

Fahrschule was mandatory for German citizens, but I was exempt due to my status with the U.S. military. As an active duty officer, I only had to pass a written test of knowledge of the rules of the road, without a driver test or even the first aid class.

To learn more about the history of driving instruction in Germany, go here. I particularly like this paragraph:

The success of driving instruction in Germany can be seen particularly in the declining number of fatal accidents – despite a continued increase in traffic volume. The German driving schools do not claim the sole credit for this positive development, but they have undoubtedly played a significant role in bringing it about.

Nothing is said about speed limits. They attribute improved safety to improved drivers.

NMA Illinois Alert: NMA Fights against Speed Cams in IL

Posted on April 17th, 2014 in , , , | Comments Off

Illinois lawmakers are considering a bill (House Bill 4632) to allow cities outside of Chicago to implement speed camera programs. The NMA opposes this bill, and now you can read about our reasons why. The Illinois Business Journal invited us to contribute an article covering the “Con” side of the debate, which you can find here.

Take a look and then feel free to pass this on to others who may be interested in drivers’ rights. Or send a copy to your state legislators to let them know you don’t want any more ticket cameras in Illinois.

NMA Colorado Alert: Support Ban on Red-Light Cameras

Posted on April 17th, 2014 in , , , | Comments Off

Sen. Scott Renfroe has once again introduced legislation to ban red-light cameras throughout the Colorado.

Senate Bill 14-181 “repeals the authorization for municipalities to use automated vehicle identification systems to identify violators of traffic regulations and issue citations based on photographic evidence, and creates a prohibition on such activity.”

Colorado would join fifteen other states that have banned the use of automated enforcement if the current bill passes.

Photo enforcement programs throughout Colorado have come under increasing scrutiny. Denver’s program came under fire after revelations that cameras had been recalibrated to ticket motorists who stopped beyond the white line. Nonetheless, the Denver City Council renewed its contract with ACS. And Colorado Springs pulled the plug on its cameras in 2011 after concluding they were not improving safety.

Colorado Springs made the right decision. Photo enforcement programs put revenue generation before public safety, to the detriment of motorists. It’s time to take the profit motive out of traffic enforcement by banning ticket cameras in Colorado. (Learn more about the NMA’s objections to red-light cameras.)

SB 14-181 has successfully passed the Senate State, Veterans, & Military Affairs Committee and appears to have greater support than previous efforts. It may be up for a vote in the full Senate soon. We urge you to contact your Senate member to let him or her know you support a ban on red-light cameras in Colorado.

NMA PA Alert: Stop Speed Cam Bill NOW

Posted on April 16th, 2014 in , , , | Comments Off

Your legislators are up to their old tricks again.

The Pennsylvania Senate Transportation Committee plans to hold a hearing on a speed camera bill on Monday, April 21. Here’s the trick:

  • The hearing will be held at the Philadelphia Convention Center
  • Scheduled speakers include representatives from the insurance industry, the bicycling lobby, PennDOT, Philadelphia City Hall and the Philadelphia Police Department

Ostensibly, this hearing will discuss the merits, or lack thereof, of Senate Bill 1211, which would allow speed cameras along Highway 1 near Philadelphia. In reality, it sounds more like a pep rally staged by the camera companies and their accomplices.

Make no mistake, if enacted, SB 1211 will pave the way for widespread speed camera deployment throughout the commonwealth. (Learn why speed cameras represent bad public policy.)

Now is the time to shut this down. Plan to attend this hearing. Details follow:

  • Senate Transportation Committee Hearing on SB 1211
  • Monday, April 21, 2014, 2:00 PM
  • Philadelphia Convention Center, Room 103A
  • 1101 Arch Street, Philadelphia, PA, 19107

If you can’t attend, contact members of the transportation committee and tell them you oppose the use of speed cameras in Pennsylvania.

NMA E-Newsletter #274: Some Observations on Driving Overseas

Posted on April 13th, 2014 in , , , , , | Comments Off

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Editor’s Note: The following comments come from a longtime NMA member who has lived and traveled extensively overseas. His insights should prove valuable for anyone planning to travel abroad this summer. If you’ve driven in another country, we’d like to hear from you. How do American drivers stack up against their international counterparts? What is traffic enforcement like in other countries? What’s the best country in the world to drive in? What’s the worst? We’ll publish reader comments in future newsletters.

Some countries have very aggressive and/or inattentive drivers. The Lonely Planet guidebook for Turkey says the average motorist drives with an attitude of kismet, or fate. If Allah decides you should live to the end of the day you will, and if not then you won’t, so why worry about it? The book warns of driving in rural areas at night where you can encounter a nearly invisible lady in a full, black, hooded chador riding a donkey that you will hit at high speed if you are not very alert.

Speaking of staying alert, I used to live in Moscow, and I can tell you drivers there were the most aggressive I ever encountered. You need to maintain 110 percent alertness every hour of the day or night. If you don’t believe me, just check out YouTube for some scary examples captured on dash cam.

Contrast those with my experiences in Western Europe where I believe the average driver is more attentive than North American drivers. Part of this is the need to be more alert. Traffic is dense and fast, and many roadways are less forgiving than ours. British motorways have no fast-lane shoulder, and rural roads in Britain rarely have any shoulder at all.

Lanes tend to be narrower in Europe in general, requiring more attention to stay fully in your own lane. Part of this is the age of the roadways, which often predate the automobile by centuries. When you encounter semi trucks coming the other way on a two-lane highway in Europe, they almost touch the center line in many places and go over it a bit on very sharp curves. But they don’t slow down much, and you don’t have to either—so long as you are careful how you place your car in the lane.

In most European countries, the initial licensing and driver training are far more rigorous than in North America. Unlike in our culture, you really have to learn to drive, or you don’t get a license at all.

There are some interesting contrasts. Italian drivers have a reputation, well deserved, for being aggressive. The difference is that most of them really love driving and perfect their skills. They may bluff you, but they don’t hit you. A serious breach of etiquette in Italy is to waste other drivers’ time. We were in Palermo in Sicily on a Sunday and virtually every traffic light was turned off. We encountered many main intersections of one four-lane road crossing another four-lane road—with no light. Drivers took turns, much like what happens at a four-way stop, and it worked remarkably well. But if you hesitated for a couple of nanoseconds when it was your turn, you got a dozen horns blaring at you to GO.

In Italy on good rural two-lane highways, you can have the occasional experience of two cars coming at you from the other direction, one pulled to the right edge of their lane and the other straddling a double yellow no passing stripe. You move to the right of your lane and the passing car goes between the two of you. It scares the @#$% out of you the first time, but then you realize the passing car will not do this unless there is enough room for the three cars to be abreast of each other.

German drivers are fast, but highly skilled. I drove a bit on an unrestricted Autobahn at 90-100 mph and was passed by several cars going much faster. But they did it with skill, and I never felt uneasy.

In general, I am more assured that the drivers around me in Europe know what they are doing and are less likely to make mistakes than those in North America.

NMA Florida Alert: Oppose HB 7005 as Amended

Posted on April 11th, 2014 in , , , | Comments Off

Florida House Bill 7005 started out as a good bill but recent amendments have turned it into a negative for Florida motorists who receive red-light camera tickets. While there are some good things in it such as court costs being reduced from $250 to $100, it also takes away the opportunity for a red-light camera case to be heard in county traffic court by removing the ticketing option.

This means that every person who wants to fight a camera ticket will have to do so through an administrative hearing process, which is nothing more than a kangaroo court. Simply stated, the cases are heard by people hired by the public officials who stand to benefit from the ticket revenue. These hearings are inherently unfair to motorists since they specifically prohibit using formal rules of evidence to safeguard our rights.

HB 7005 will be heard tomorrow in the House Economic Affairs Committee. We encourage you to contact committee members and tell them to vote against this bill as it currently stands.

NMA E-Newsletter #273: We Need ALPR Legislation Now

Posted on April 7th, 2014 in , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Comments Off

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On the heels of the NSA domestic spying scandal, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) announced plans in February to build a national database of motor vehicle license plate data. Not only would the system have included data collected by DHS, but data from other law enforcement agencies and private companies as well.

The good news is that two days after the announcement, DHS shelved the program, saying that key decision-makers had been left out of the loop. The bad news is that DHS will likely find a less public way to achieve 24/7 surveillance of every car on the road. It’s been syphoning plate data from a private firm, Vigilant Solutions (which boasts a database of 1.8 billion license plate images), for years and will likely continue to. Private firms like Vigilant Solutions are among the largest collectors and purveyors of license-plate data. This raises concerns about the privatization of law enforcement and the abuses and corruption it engenders.

Such vehicle surveillance systems use automated license plate readers (ALPRs)—high-speed cameras, either stationary or mounted on patrol cars, that capture every license plate number they encounter. The system marks the time and vehicle location and then checks the plate against a variety of databases searching for things like stolen vehicles, lapsed registrations, outstanding fines or warrants. The systems can also check for drivers with unpaid taxes or child support, lack of insurance or even to alert the repo man.

One plate reader can scan up to 3,000 license plates per minute. With enough cameras, ALPR systems can blanket a city and track the day-to-day movements of thousands of vehicles at a time.

Law enforcement agencies in all 50 states have implemented ALPR systems, thanks mostly to grants from the federal government. In 2013 the ACLU released a report analyzing the impact of such pervasive surveillance on personal privacy. Here’s an excerpt:

The implementation of automatic license plate readers poses serious privacy and other civil liberties threats. More and more cameras, longer retention periods, and widespread sharing allow law enforcement agents to assemble the individual puzzle pieces of where we have been over time into a single, high-resolution image of our lives. The knowledge that one is subject to constant monitoring can chill the exercise of our cherished rights to free speech and association.

The ACLU statement identifies several key ALPR privacy concerns:

  • How long will the information be retained?
  • How widely will it be shared?
  • Who will have access to it?
  • How will it be used?

Further concerns come from the fact that policies regarding use of ALPR data vary widely. The Minnesota State Patrol requires deletion after 48 hours. Some agencies hold data for 30 days, while others keep it indefinitely. But timely deletion matters little if the data have already been shared with other agencies or uploaded to a federal fusion center.

NMA President Gary Biller, in a recent presentation on ALPRs, observed that “the horse has left the barn,” meaning that widespread use of ALPRs is here to stay. So the question is what can we do to protect the privacy of the driving public?

Biller stressed the need for legislation at the state and federal level to address the privacy concerns listed above. Only five states (Arkansas, Maine, New Hampshire, Utah and Vermont) have enacted plate reader laws. But, again, the scope of provisions varies widely.

We need more ALPR legislation that balances the needs of legitimate law enforcement with the need for robust privacy protections. A good model comes from a North Carolina bill under consideration in that state’s Senate Transportation Committee. Senate Bill 623 would do the following:

  • Restrict the use of ALPRs to municipal, county or state law enforcement agencies
  • Prevent sharing of plate data for any reason
  • Require deletion of data after 10 days unless flagged
  • Limit the types of crimes and violations that data can be used to investigate
  • Restrict data matching to specific databases such the State Criminal Justice Information Network, National Crime Information Center and missing/kidnapped persons lists

We encourage lawmakers across the country to follow North Carolina’s lead and establish meaningful ALPR restrictions before it’s too late.

NMA E-Newsletter #272: Of Pretzel Logic and E-Cigarettes

Posted on March 31st, 2014 in , , , , , , , , | Comments Off

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Jason Dewing’s story has a surreal quality to it. Well, it did take place in traffic court so anything is possible.

Dewing was stopped by an Upstate New York police officer for driving while using his cell phone. Only he wasn’t using his cell phone, he was smoking an electronic cigarette. The officer didn’t believe him and wrote him a ticket. Dewing showed up in court and used phone records to show he was not using his phone at the time of traffic stop.

The judge acknowledged as much, but that wasn’t the end of it. The judge claimed that Dewing’s e-cigarette qualified as a portable electronic device under New York law (after all, it’s got batteries, it’s portable and it’s a device) so Dewing was still guilty.

Dewing countered by reciting the New York statute (1225-d) that covers driving while using portable electronic devices:

“Portable electronic device” shall mean any hand-held mobile telephone, as defined by subdivision one of section twelve hundred twenty-five-c of this article, personal digital assistant (PDA), handheld device with mobile data access, laptop computer, pager, broadband personal communication device, two-way messaging device, electronic game, or portable computing device, or any other electronic device when used to input, write, send, receive, or read text for present or future communication.

Clearly an e-cigarette doesn’t meet that definition. Neither does a flashlight, an mp3 player, a camera, a hearing aid, a wristwatch or any number of medical devices. But by the judge’s logic it’s not inconceivable that a driver could land in hot water for using any one of them while driving in Upstate New York.

The judge and the DA were nonplused by Dewing’s knowledge of the law; neither was familiar with these requirements, and the DA actually had to look up the statute to confirm the language. But it was too late, the judge had already found Dewing guilty. Case closed, though Dewing is considering an appeal based on judicial ignorance and stubbornness.

This case shows how important it is to know exactly what you’ve been charged with—you may be the only person in the courtroom who actually does. Cell phone/texting laws vary widely from state to state. (Check this excellent source to view each state’s statute.) They define “portable electronic device” or “handheld electronic device” in different ways. Some focus more on how such devices are used than on their physical characteristics or technical capabilities. Let’s look at some examples.

Maine’s statute defines portable electronic device as “any portable electronic device that is not part of the operating equipment of a motor vehicle, including but not limited to an electronic game, device for sending or receiving e-mail, text messaging device, cellular telephone and computer.”

Note that the “but not limited to” loophole shows up in numerous state statutes and could conceivably lead to the kind of nonsensical, arbitrary judgment Dewing received.

Minnesota’s law focuses on the use of a “wireless communications device” while driving without defining what that device actually is. However the requirements regarding use are fairly specific: “No person may operate a motor vehicle while using a wireless communications device to compose, read, or send an electronic message, when the vehicle is in motion or a part of traffic.” The law also carefully defines what an “electronic message” is and isn’t.

Connecticut spells it out this way:

 ‘Mobile electronic device’ means any hand-held or other portable electronic equipment capable of providing data communication between two or more persons, including a text messaging device, a paging device, a personal digital assistant, a laptop computer, equipment that is capable of playing a video game or a digital video disk, or equipment on which digital photographs are taken or transmitted, or any combination thereof, but does not include any audio equipment or any equipment installed in a motor vehicle for the purpose of providing navigation, emergency assistance to the operator of such motor vehicle or video entertainment to the passengers in the rear seats of such motor vehicle.

That’s a mouthful, but it’s worth knowing if you ever get hauled before a Connecticut judge for changing the settings on your iPod while driving.

Any time you get a traffic citation you need to determine the following:

  • Is the law/ordinance listed on the ticket related to the reason you were stopped and cited?
  • Is the law/ordinance referenced on your citation for some other violation and is in fact in error?
  • Were your actions really in violation of this law?

Do the research and find out before you end up tangling with a DA or judge who’s determined to take you down the rabbit hole just because they don’t know the law.

Editor’s Note: The NMA takes no position on the use of e-cigarettes by responsible adults. 

NMA E-Newsletter #271: 2014 First Quarter Legislative Update

Posted on March 23rd, 2014 in , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Comments Off

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The NMA continues to advocate for motorists’ rights at the national, state and local level. Legislatures across the country took up a broad range of motorists’ issues in the first quarter of 2014. Here’s a brief summary of the driving-related issues we addressed.


Opposed efforts by the Elk Grove City Council to renew its photo enforcement contract with camera vendor Redflex. An Elk Grove City Council staff report recommended renewing the contract, even though the report lacked many pertinent details needed to evaluate the true nature of the red-light camera program. 


Supported Senate Bill 144 which would repeal the use of red-light cameras throughout the state. The bill was to be heard in the Senate Transportation Committee but has been postponed. 

Supported Senate Bill 392 which would allow for highway speeds of up to 75 mph. The bill passed through the Senate Community Affairs Committee and is now under consideration in the Senate Appropriations Committee. The NMA has been working with the office of bill sponsor Senator Jeff Brandes to move the bill. An NMA-authored opinion piece appeared in the Orlando Sentinel in support of its passage. 


Opposed House Bill 4632 which would allow cities throughout the state to place speed cameras in designated “safety zones,” which include areas around schools and parks. The bill is currently under consideration in the House Transportation Committee. The NMA wrote an opinion piece for the Illinois Business Journal in opposition to the bill, which will be published in April. 


Opposed House Bill 1042 which would allow a school district “to enter into an enforcement agreement with a contractor for camera enforcement” of so-called stop-arm violations by vehicles passing stationary school buses. The bill passed the House Roads and Transportation Committee. Look here for more on the fraudulent nature of school bus cameras. 


Supported House Bill 58 which would raise the speed limit on four-lane divided highways (non-interstates or parkways) to 65 mph. The bill is currently under consideration in the House Transportation Committee. 


Opposed House Bill 5209 which would withhold a driver’s license from those juveniles who have been found truant. Specifically, HB 5209 would deny licensing or mandate a license suspension for a six-month period. The bill is currently under consideration in the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee. 


Opposed House Bill 1557 which would legitimize photo enforcement in Missouri. HB 1557 is a “Trojan horse” bill, described as putting restrictions on how red-light cameras operate, but in reality it will facilitate the spread of cameras throughout the state. The bill has passed the full House and now moves to the Senate. 


Supported House Bill 69 which would ban the use of ticket cameras throughout the state. The bill was passed by the full House last year but has been stalled in the Senate. The bill does have bipartisan support but is being intentionally held up by pro-camera forces. Listen to this radio interview with one of the bill’s sponsors, Rep. Dale Mallory, to learn more. 


Supported House Bill 973 which would have banned the use of red-light cameras throughout the commonwealth. The bill unanimously passed a transportation subcommittee thanks in part to expert testimony from NMA Life Member Joe Bahen but died in the full House Transportation Committee. 


Supported efforts by a Washington NMA member to push for legislative reform regarding requirements for the use of unmarked police vehicles. The use of these vehicles facilitates impersonators, as well as creating the danger that comes from misidentifying a real police officer. More details are available here. 

Thanks to the many NMA members who volunteered their time to send emails, write letters, make phone calls, and work with policymakers and media outlets on these important issues. If you’re not signed up to receive legislative alerts but would like to, use the “Choose Your NMA E-Subscriptions” link in the sidebar of this email. 

NMA Florida Alert: Support Bill to Ban Red-Light Cameras

Posted on March 18th, 2014 in , , | Comments Off

Senate Bill 144, the Senate red-light camera repeal bill, will be heard by the Senate Transportation Committee on Thursday March 20, 2014 at 9:00 AM in Senate Office Building Room 37 (the basement).

If you can attend the committee meeting in support of this bill, please do so. If you can’t, please contact the legislative staff as listed below and tell them it is time for the red-light camera scheme in Florida to be repealed. If SB 144 fails to pass this committee it will die.

Florida’s red-light camera law has saddled motorists with a guilty-until-excused statute and created kangaroo courts that further stack the deck against vehicle owners. Please tell the staff that you oppose turning law enforcement into a for-profit scheme. Finally, the recent legislative staff report documented over 1,100 additional crashes at camera-equipped intersections. Note that local red-light camera operators have failed to provide crash data to the state for the annual report. What are they hiding?

If you contact a sponsor or co-sponsor (Senators Brandes and Evers on this committee), all you need do is thank them for their work against red-light cameras.

Sen. Brandes (BILL SPONSOR)

Chris Spencer 850-487-5022


Sen. Margolis

Terri Jo Kennedy 850-487-5035


Sen. Diaz de la Portilla

Patricia Gosney 850-487-5040


Sen. Evers (CO-SPONSOR)

Dave Murzin 850-487-5002


Sen. Garcia

David Marin 850-487-5038


Sen. Joyner

Randi Rosete 850-487-5019


Sen. Lee

Douglas Roberts 850-487-5024


Sen. Richter

Michael Nachef 850-487-5023


Sen. Thompson

Roosevelt Holmes 850-487-5012



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