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What you don't know about German DUI law

SPANGDAHLEM AIR BASE, Germany -- What you don't know can hurt you ... especially if you drink and drive!

If you have been stationed overseas in the past -- especially in Europe -- you may know that the NATO Status of Forces Agreement requires all U.S. service members follow host nation laws. For all of us assigned here, that means we must follow the German rules of the road. For many, the lack of a speed limit on a few German autobahns is well known. What you probably don't know as well is the German law on drinking and driving.

The first mistake people make is to assume their chances of getting caught breaking the law in Germany are slim. The second is to assume driving under the influence laws are the same here as in the US.

The 52nd Fighter Wing Legal Office processed 1,297 penalty orders or traffic tickets for U.S. forces and family members who were fined for violating German traffic laws, including administrative fines for drinking and driving, in 2010. German law enforcement officials are very good at what they do.

Drunken driving laws are enforced in the U.S. Most states make it illegal to drive with a Blood Alcohol Content at or above .08 percent. Under the Uniform Code of Military Justice, the standard is .1 percent. A military member is not criminally liable for driving with alcohol in their blood unless there is evidence to show the driver's abilities were actually impaired if his or her BAC is below those limits.

German laws have a much broader reach than U.S. laws. For example, a driver under 21 years of age or a beginner driver with even the slightest amount of alcohol in their system -- .001 - .051 percent -- is subject to a 250 Euro fine.

Any driver found to have .052 - .114 alcohol blood content will be fined and will have their license suspended. The amount of the fine and duration of the suspension depends on whether it is a first-time offense or not.

Under German law, when a driver is involved in an accident involving serious injuries or death and found to have a blood alcohol content of .032 percent or more, the consequences become even more severe, including a possible jail sentence of up to five years.

For military members, all cases considered to be criminal offenses -- .10 percent and higher without accident and all cases of .032 percent and higher with an accident -- will be automatically released to U.S. military jurisdiction by the appropriate German authorities. That driver is then subject to punishment under the UCMJ by Article 15 or court-martial. The consequences of an Article 15 or court-martial are devastating to a military career. Loss of rank, forfeiture of pay and even restriction to base are all real possibilities when a member gets an Article 15. If the circumstances warrant a court-martial, jail becomes another real possibility.

One way to make responsible choices is to understand the possible consequences of your actions and act accordingly. Knowing that having a blood alcohol content well below the normal U.S. or UCMJ standards of .08 and .10 will result in administrative fines and other negative consequences should help you make responsible decisions. In Germany, drinking any amount of alcohol and driving can hurt you ... in many different ways.

The following chart helps to show the consequences of a German DUI.
German Blood Alcohol Content (US Scale) Off Base German Legal System
.001-.051 (< 21 yrs or beginner driver) 250 euro Administrative Fine
.052-.114 w/o accident Administrative Offense - Administrative Fine
· 1st offense - 500 euro fine, 1 month suspension
· 2nd offense - 1000 euro fine, 3 month suspension
· 3rd offense - 1500 euro fine, 3 month suspension
w/o accident
Considered Criminal - Punishment by Fine
· suspended license > at least 6 months or more
· license revocation possible
.032 >
w/accident Property damage only

.032 >
w/accident - Personal Injuries or Death
Considered Criminal - Punishment by Fine

· fine
· suspended license > 6 months or more
· license revocation possible

· jail time and fine
· suspended license > 1 year or more
· license revocation possible