Germany’s Federal Court of Justice ruled in a recent case that a driver who parked his van in front of a speed camera sensor so that it could no longer record people speeding was innocent of any offence (case ref.: 1 StR 469/12).
Parking in front of speed cameras
A driver who became annoyed after being caught speeding by a speed camera decided to park his van in front of the camera’s sensor so that it could not catch other motorists speeding.
Attempts by the authorities to contact the driver were unsuccessful. It was only when the authorities called a recovery service that the driver reacted.
However, instead of removing the obstacle, the driver simply replaced the van with a tractor. The driver lowered the tractor’s bucket to the ground, which meant that the recovery service was unable to tow the tractor away.
The man eventually removed the tractor when the police arrived, but the speeding camera had remained inoperative, as intended by the driver, for one hour.
Disruption to public services
The court of first instance found the man guilty of duress under § 240(1) German Criminal Code (Strafgesetzbuch, StGB) and fined him €300.
On appeal, the Regional High Court of Karlsruhe substituted the conviction for duress with a conviction for the disruption of public services (§ 316b(1)(iii)) but referred the case to Germany’s Federal Court of Justice (Bundesgerichtshof, BGH) for clarification.
The Bundesgerichtshof reversed the regional high court’s judgment arguing that the elements of public service disruption were not present. The judges stated that to be guilty of such an offence, the accused must actively interfere with the service in question. The accused must cause some kind of destruction or disturbance with the operation of the equipment designed to serve or protect the public. The disturbance must be caused by the destruction, damaging, removal or modification of a part of the equipment which enables it to function or by making that part unusable.
By parking his vehicle in front of the camera, the driver prevented it from measuring the speed of passing vehicles. However, the driver did not physically affect the integrity of the camera equipment, for example by smearing it with graffiti or sticking labels on it. As a result there was no manipulation of the camera or any part of the camera which would have been capable of affecting the camera’s functioning.
The physical interference with the camera’s ability to operate was therefore missing in this case. This is demonstrated by the fact that camera could still be operated once the obstruction was moved or by simply spinning the camera around. The BGH rightly absolved the driver of any culpability.
While there are no doubt other motorists out there who sympathise with the actions of the driver in this case, it is highly advisable to refrain from copying him.