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Germany

Flat broke: Delinquent bills could mean deflated tires

Cities in Germany routinely send out reminders to citizens in arrears with debts and payments. As a last resort, some clamp a treacherous device to tire valves, causing flats.

German car owners who owe their cities money - for dog licenses, automobile taxes, child support payments, parking tickets, or TV and radio license fees, for examples - should keep an eye on their tires if the payment reminders start stacking up.

Some morning, they could find a bright yellow device attached to the valve of one of the tires, in addition to a sticker on the door lock and a warning note on the windshield telling them that, if they move the car, their tire will gradually deflate, going completely flat within 600 meters (2,000 feet).

Dresden started using the plug devices 10 years ago, city spokesman Karl Schuricht told DW. With the help of the valve guards, the eastern city impounded 67 vehicles in 2014 and has towed 63 vehicles to the yard so far this year, but "only in cases when debtors, often multiple debtors, didn't pay their debt despite several demand notes," he said.

Risky method

What has proved to be an efficient and inexpensive collection method for often hard-up German cities can potentially lead to accidents. And critics say a note of warning on the windshield isn't enough.

The situation would become potentially precarious if someone removed the note and the vehicle's owner were to start driving unawares, Heinz-Gerd Lehmann, a technician with Germany's ADAC automobile club, told DW.

ADAC also argues that the punishment is disproportionate. The authorities must weigh whether collecting a minor debt by installing a plug on a possibly costly car is reasonable, ADAC legal expert Alexandra Elhöft told DW.

Clearly, Germans aren't too enthusiastic about the practice.

This Twitter user wonders whether it wouldn't be even more efficient to just shoot people at close range for not paying their TV fees.

In some towns, the threat of using the device as a last resort is enough to stir delinquent debtors to action; other cities stick to garnishing wages or skimming bank accounts to collect their money.

The city of Bonn only uses the plugs for cars it wants to impound and auction off. It's rare, though, spokesman Markus Schmitz said, because as a rule people pay their debts before the city resorts to such measures.

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