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German Government to Crack Down on Drunk Driving

With binge drinking gaining ground in Germany, the German government is seeking to crack down on drunk driving among young people by imposing tough new laws including a zero-tolerance policy.

Two crosses by a German highway marking the spot of a tragic accident

There are more than 20,000 alcohol-related accidents in Germany every year

Police in Germany use shock methods to drive home the message that drinking and driving can be fatal. Video sequences including pictures of blood-stained steering wheels and maimed bodies of accident victims are shown in discos and at schools to audiences of young drivers and those soon-to-be.

But recent studies have shown that newly qualified drivers between 18 and 24 years of age account for more than 30 percent of alcohol-related accidents -- which is a disproportionately large number.

The German government is now aiming to tighten at least the legal consequences of drunk driving to German youngsters. It has adopted a zero tolerance policy regarding alcohol towards all drivers who've had a license for less than two years.

Offenders caught with even the minutest traces of alcohol in their blood will face a fine of 125 euros ($160) and have their names registered in an index of traffic offenders. In addition, they will have their license probation period extended by 4 years and will have to complete a course on behavior in traffic at a cost of 450 euros.

Tragic accidents

Wolfgang Tiefensee

German Transportation Minister Wofgang Tiefensee

Traffic and Transportation Minister Wolfgang Tiefensee hopes these measures will reduce the number of tragic accidents.

"This move is intended to reduce the number of accidents and the grief they cause," Tiefensee said. "We hope that young drivers will think more about the consequences of their actions in future and that elder drivers will perhaps also change their habits."

For drivers who've had their licenses for longer than two years, a blood alcohol limit of 0.5 milligrams per milliliter of blood will apply. That is about 2 small beers or a shot of hard liquor.

An ongoing debate

A waitress carrying a load of one-liter beer steins

Will Germany expand its zero-tolerance policy to adult drivers?

In view of more than 20,000 alcohol-related accidents in Germany, the debate about what the government can and should do is likely to continue.

"For the time being we will be busy gaining experience with this policy among new drivers," said head of the German Police Union Konrad Freiberg. "But I'm sure that the discussion about a possible extension to all drivers will soon develop."

The government's draft bill is said to enjoy the backing of a majority of German lawmakers. This would guarantee a smooth passage of the bill in both houses of parliament so that the law could come into force before the summer break.

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