At the stroke of midnight, Berlin, Cologne und Hanover introduced a ban on"dirty"cars plying their inner cities in an attempt to limit air pollution.
Dirty cars may not proceed beyond this point
Old cars without a proper catalytic converter or diesel soot filter will no longer be able to enter the inner cities in Berlin, Cologne and Hanover, starting Jan. 1, 2008.
To do so, the cars have to be outfitted with a certified sticker which can be obtained after a car passes emissions tests. Flouting the ban in Berlin will cost drivers a 40-euro fine ($58.60).
The goal is to cut down on so-called fine particles, which can cause a range of respiratory illnesses.
In Berlin, almost 80 percent of the city's 1.2 million registered cars have received a sticker. In Cologne 280,000 stickers have been distributed while Hanover has given out over 36,000.
Drivers must visit an authorized testing facility and will receive a colored badge corresponding to how much fine particles the car emits.
Other German cities are looking to adopt the program as well, including Stuttgart and Mannheim, and will start enforcing the zones as of March 1.
Politicians hope that such "environment zones" in inner cities will lead to a sharp fall in the concentration of fine particles. The hope is to meet EU limits of a maximum of 50 micrograms of fine particles per cubic meter of air. The limit can be exceeded for a maximum of 35 days in a year.
Pro-environment or anti-driver?
But critics say the responsibility for slashing particle pollution shouldn't lie with city authorities alone.
Different colors designate the level of emissions
"Cities cannot win the fight against fine particles alone," said Munich Mayor Christian Ude, who is also heads the German Association of Cities and Towns. He said it was the job of the federal government and the European Union to regulate fine particles, not German cities.
Germany's largest automobile club ADAC is also opposed to the program.
"We are looking into possible legal options for residents with older cars in certain regions," said ADAC spokesman Michael Ramstetter told the German weekly Euro am Sonntag.
According to the Web site of the Association for Technical Monitoring (GTÜ), tourists entering these cities by car will not have to pay fines if they are caught without a sticker.
German broadcaster ZDF estimated that up to 1.7 million cars throughout Germany would be unable to pass the strict standards. Of those, drivers of older diesel cars will especially be affected.
In Berlin alone, between 30,000 and 50,000 cars will no longer be allowed into the city center. Individual public service vehicles used by police, fire fighters and emergency services as well as busses are exempt from the restrictions.