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Driving without a Driving Licence in Germany

Having a driving licence is vital when it comes to using an automobile on the German Autobahn and road network. Should one be found not to have a driving licence while driving in Germany can lead to criminal charges. We have previously looked at different aspects relating to Driving Offences in Germany which mainly focused on DUIs.

If you find yourself in a situation where legal assistance is required then do not hesitate to contact us directly. Contacting an experienced lawyer to act in your corner is the first step you should consider when contending with a serious offence. These offences can lead to driving bans, revocation of driving licences, fines and even imprisonment.

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The Legal Definition of Driving without a Driving Licence

Driving without a driving licence may seem like a straightforward offence, however, there are a few elements to it. These elements involve whether the person ever held a licence, whether they held a licence and were subsequently given a driving ban and involves providing some level of culpability to the vehicle’s owner. This offence is regulated for under § 21 StVG and states that sanctions can be given to:

(1) Anyone who

1.drives a motor vehicle although he does not have the necessary driving licence or is prohibited from driving the vehicle in accordance with § 44 German Criminal Code or § 25 of this Act, or

2.as the owner of a motor vehicle, orders or permits someone to drive the vehicle who does not have the necessary driving licence or who is prohibited from driving the vehicle in accordance with § 44 German Criminal Code or in accordance with § 25 of this Act

(2) A prison sentence of up to six months or a fine of up to 180 daily rates shall be imposed on anyone who

1. negligently commits an act referred to in paragraph 1,

2. intentionally or negligently drives a motor vehicle although the prescribed driving licence has been taken into custody, seized or confiscated in accordance with § 94 Code of Criminal Procedure, or

3. intentionally or negligently orders or permits someone to drive a motor vehicle as the owner of a motor vehicle although the prescribed driving licence has been taken into custody, secured or confiscated in accordance with § 94 Code of Criminal Procedure.

§ 94 StPO refers to vehicles which may be in required as evidence in criminal law cases.

The breaching of such offences can lead to sanctions of heavy fines, penalty points as well up to one year in prison. In cases where the action was committed negligently, rather than intentionally, the sentence should be no more than six months whereas where it has been committed with intention can lead to higher sanctions. However, the facts of the case will play the most important role.


Where do I need a Driving Licence to Drive?

In this case, driving refers to vehicles that have been set into motion with motive power (in this case with acceleration) and where it has happened in public traffic areas. Therefore, driving without a licence on non-publicly accessible private property (within a familial property, for example) is not liable to criminal liability. Besides on private property, one requires a valid driving licence to use the German road network – whether on the Autobahn (motorway) or in towns and cities.

This licence does not always have to be German, and in many cases, foreign licences are recognised as valid for German road use. This is especially the case for licences from other European Union countries, however foreign non-EU driving licences may need to be converted in German licences should the individual seek to stay long term in Germany.


Driving Offences with a Foreign Driving Licence

In cases involving people driving in Germany with a foreign driving licence, they are still liable for prosecution where they have committed driving offences. Under § 29 FeV (Driving Licence Ordinance), one can face prosecution in instances where the person driving’s foreign licence has expired or faced a driving ban from their home country. This applies even when the person in question does not have their primary residence in Germany.

When it comes to which licences are valid in Germany, driving licences available in the European Union are generally valid. Thus, it is not necessary to convert such a driving licence into a German one in most cases. Continuing to drive in Germany with this EU licence does not open the person up to offences concerning driving without a valid driving licence. In cases involving non-EU licences, the need to get a German licence may arise depending on the licence in question. This is especially should the person seek to establish Germany as their primary place of residence. Should this requirement be demanded, then continuing to drive with the foreign driving licence without conversion can lead to liability for prosecution.


Driving Offences Abroad with German Driving Licence

Should a person have been banned from driving in Germany but then drives abroad, they could face penalties under German law per § 7 StGB. However, they must be a German citizen at the time it happens. In this case, the driving offence must be viewed as a criminal offence in the other country. If it is deemed an administrative offence in the other jurisdiction, it will not be deemed a criminal offence in Germany.


Driving while under a Driving Ban

As we outlined in our Driving Offences article, there are many offences one can commit, leading to driving bans in Germany. Driving bans can be given for serious offences (such as DUIs) and repeat driving offences. In such a situation, a person could be banned from driving for a month or much longer. During that time, they should not be found behind the wheel of an automobile. This driving ban even extends as far as motorcycles and mopeds. During this driving ban, the person’s driving licence can be officially confiscated from them.

A person deciding to drive while on the driving ban can face serious criminal law consequences in such a scenario. Committing this action demonstrates that the person has committed a deliberate act of breaking a traffic law. Such an action can encourage the prosecuting side to seek the heavier penalties for fines, penalty points and imprisonment. Repeat offences can lead to further increases into penalties faced.

Should a person commit serious enough offences and collect enough penalty points, they can face sanctions, including having their vehicle confiscated and being put off the road until they pass an MPU (medical-psychological examination) allow them to once again apply for a driving licence. Cases involving the confiscation of a motor vehicle can occur per § 21 StVG, and it refers to cases of repeat offences where the person has already faced a driving ban at least once in the last three years. In such an instance, the court has discretion as to whether it applies to this confiscation.


Liability as Car Owner

As a car owner, it is strongly advisable to make sure that anyone borrowing your car has a driving licence. Ask them to show you the licence if necessary. As stated above, under § 21 StVG, the owner of the car who allows or orders someone to drive their vehicle without a licence or with a driving ban can also face criminal liability. Companies that provide employees with company cars also need to check their staff once per year to make sure that they have the required driving licence and that they have not been given a driving ban preventing them from driving.

This requirement also applies where the person who owns the car seeks to rent out their car and commercial rental companies. They need to check that the other person has a valid driving licence. In such circumstances, they should make sure that the borrower presents their original driving licence and makes sure that the licence presented permits the individual to drive this type of vehicle. Such checks should be completed before the handover of the keys for the car.

When it comes to the sale of the automobile, the person seeking to sell the car should look for the potential buyer’s driving licence before they are allowed to take a test drive of the car. During the test drive, the seller is still the car’s owner. Therefore, they need to ensure that the driver of their car has a valid driving licence. However, once the vehicle has been paid for and bought by the other party, it is no longer the seller’s property.

In cases involving car owners allowing their children to practice driving, the owner can also face criminal liability without them possessing the required driving licence. It is allowed for them to practice in closed, private settings with the car owner’s permission, but it is not permitted in public traffic. Once the car has been allowed to take part in road traffic, the owner runs the risk of fines, penalty points, imprisonment and even having their licence revoked (depending on the facts of the situation.)


The Medical-Psychological Examination (MPU)

Drivers who have committed serious driving offences such as driving without a valid driving licence, driving while under a driving ban, driving under the influence of alcohol or drugs etc. can face being banned from driving for lengthy periods. In some cases, such offenders may be banned until they complete a medical-psychological examination (MPU). This type of test is designed to test the individual to ensure that they can move in traffic and drive without endangering other people. It involves testing the person’s knowledge of the road rules and generally determining whether they can participate in road traffic. This test needs to be taken seriously as failure can result in the person remaining off the road.

This MPU is not restricted to such cases. It is not only used for drivers who have had driving bans or had their licences revoked. The MPU can also be used when applying for a new driving licence from their local office. Competent drivers who are aware of the rules of the road should have no problems with such a test but should also take it seriously as failing it will mean a delay in getting the licence.


Driving without Appropriate Driving Licence

When it comes to driving in Germany, one must not only have a driving licence, but one must have the appropriate driving licence for the vehicle in question. Different vehicles require separate licences. Having possession of a standard car licence (B licence) does not provide the same rights as a C (lorry/truck) or a D (bus) licence. Therefore, not holding the appropriate licence can also result in criminal prosecution. This charge can even apply where the person holds a driving licence but not the vehicle’s appropriate licence in question. Those operating the business should also be aware of this requirement when hiring drivers for their company. These companies hold responsibility as the owners of the trucks/lorries in this case.

It should be noted that this requirement for an appropriate licence also includes the attachment of a trailer to an automobile. Driving a car may require a B driving licence, but this is not sufficient for driving with a trailer behind. For this, it is required that the driver holds a BE licence.


Administrative Offence: Forgotten Driving Licence

If the person in question holds a driving licence but does not have it on their person when questioned by police or at a police check, they could face an administrative charge. Such a charge may result in a small administrative fine. This is the case even where the person has not committed an offence while driving. Such offences may include situations such as not having the driving licence on hand, losing a driving licence but not reporting it and driving a moped without having the driving licence / appropriate certificate in your possession. Fines in these cases tend to be quite small at approximately €10-25. Other administrative offences include not having glasses while driving when needed, some DUI offences and some other minor offences.

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Practice Group: German Criminal Law

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