Insult in traffic

Blue BMW car in a dark room

When dozens of cars are on the Autobahn when the sun is beating down and the children in the back seat just won't sit still, it's not uncommon for a driver to be incensed. If another driver also behaves disrespectfully, one is often inclined to express their displeasure with finger gestures or swear words.

However, insults on the road should be treated with caution, as they can result not only in fines but also in other sanctions. In this article I explain what types of insults there are on the road and what possible penalties they entail.

What is considered an insult?

Although endanger many insults in traffic not road safety, but the honor of another road user is usually intentionally violated. Be it by means of a gesture (e.g. showing the middle finger, showing the bird or sticking out the tongue), a derogatory statement (this includes statements like “asshole!”, “woodhead” or similar) or an act of violence (jostling, spitting or pushing). The law considers all insults of this kind to be a criminal offense.

Accordingly, the offended person has the right, without objection, to report his counterpart for insults on the road. The basics of these provisions are summarized in paragraph 185 of the penal code (StGB).

Which forms of insult are distinguished from each other?

Basically, it is irrelevant in what form the insult takes place, it is always considered a criminal offense. Nevertheless, different forms are distinguished from each other, and each variant entails different penalties. In detail, this looks like this:

  • Insult: It applies, for example, when someone uses swear words or makes a derogatory gesture to someone else. Such insults result in either a fine or a one-year prison sentence. If there is an additional physical act (even if it's just one person bumping into the other), the sentence can be increased to up to two years. Details can be found in Section 185 of the Criminal Code.
  • Defamation: Paragraph 186 describes the offense of defamation, which is also one of the insults in road traffic. It occurs when someone makes claims about someone else and at the same time it is clear that the claim is not true. Of course, the assertion must again have a pejorative character. The punishment for defamation is either a fine or a prison sentence of up to one year.
  • Defamation: Arguably the worst of all insults is slander. It is recorded in Section 187 of the Criminal Code. Defamation involves the assertion of a fact which (as in slander) is not true. The difference is that the assertor knows the truth but obscures it and makes it not clear to outsiders. If the truth finally comes out, the perpetrator faces a fine or imprisonment for up to two years.

Good to know: Incidentally, with any form of insult, it is irrelevant whether it is directed at someone else Road users was expressed or to an official, for example a Police officers. Although there is the term “insulting a public servant”, this makes no difference in terms of punishment.

How high are fines in the event of a penalty?

Within the catalog of fines there is no precise list detailing the punishment for insults. Rather, the individual case is assessed and an appropriate penalty imposed.

Here, for example, the following factors play a role:

  • in what tone of voice the insult was pronounced
  • the financial situation of the offending person
  • whether there are multiple types of insults

Unfortunately, experience has shown that the penalty is higher if the offender financially well off is. The more he earns, the worse the punishment may be.

Here I also give an example to explain the consequences of a penalty: Let's assume that person A has shown the bird to person B and person B has reported to person A. Then person A can expect a fine of up to 750 euros. If it was the stinky finger instead, a fine of up to 4.000 euros is even possible.

The problem with the burden of proof

Many insults in road traffic are not even reported because the necessary evidence is missing. Because insults are often so-called application offences. Here is the verdict in common cases: No plaintiff, no judge.

Basically, anyone who reports an insult is always obliged to provide incriminating evidence. The so-called burden of proof lies with the plaintiff. Accordingly, it is always better if witnesses were present and can confirm the crime. The more the better.

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