German court paves the way for diesel driving bans

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 27 February, 2018, 9:06pm
UPDATED : Tuesday, 03 July, 2018, 8:22pm

A top German court on Tuesday ruled that cities can impose diesel driving bans to combat air pollution, in a landmark decision that could shake up the automobile industry and affect transport policies.

The decision was hailed as a resounding victory by the green group that sued two cities to try to get the ban.

However, Environment Minister Barbara Hendricks quickly responded to the decision: “The court has not issued any driving bans but created clarity about the law. Driving bans can be avoided, and my goal is and will remain that they do not come into force.”

Hendricks said there were other ways of cleaning up the air that didn’t involve banning old cars.

In their ruling, the judges at the Federal Administrative Court in Leipzig found that local authorities have the right to enforce bans on older, dirty diesels from their city centres – plunging millions of drivers into uncertainty.

The court did not however impose such bans itself, leaving that up to city and municipal authorities. The judges did however urge them to “exercise proportionality” in enforcing the bans.

The case centred around the smog-clogged cities of Stuttgart and Düsseldorf, but could have nationwide repercussions.

The outcome marks a major victory for Deutsche Umwelthilfe (DUH), which translates into “German environment help”. The group sued Stuttgart and Düsseldorf to force them to take action against the toxic nitrogen oxides and fine particles emitted by older diesel engines.

Lower-level judges had already backed their demand for driving bans but the states of Baden-Wuerttemberg and North Rhine-Westphalia appealed the rulings, saying such curbs should be decided at the federal level.

That appeal has now failed, as judges at the nation’s top administrative court again sided with the environmental campaigners.

“It’s a great day for clean air in Germany,” said DUH chief Juergen Resch.

In their ruling, the judges said any diesel bans should be imposed gradually, with exceptions granted to certain vehicles.

In Stuttgart, a diesel ban could be enforced in September at the earliest.

In a nod to concerns that the bans could slash the resale value of millions of older diesels, presiding judge Andreas Korbmacher said “certain losses will have to be accepted”.

He also urged city and municipal authorities to avoid “a patchwork” of local measures.

Critics had earlier argued that the bans would be complicated to enforce and cause confusion among drivers.