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From “What power do I have as a driver if my interstate route is blocked by a protest?”, I understand that intentionally hitting protesters who block the road is considered “Vehicular Misdemeanour”. However, what if the protesters were blocking a freeway/highway?

I’ve seen a clip somewhere (no source) of a single person standing on the Autobahn, seemingly trying to block traffic, and they got dragged of the road by a police officer. I think it’s quite normal for people to travel at much higher speeds on large highways, and stationary humans would come into view a lot more suddenly than on a normal road, leaving drivers with much less time to react. Even if the driver was able to brake, it feels quite likely that they skid and would still hit the protester unless the protester jumped out of the way.

I do realize that the scenario sounds quite similar to “a random pedestrian on the highway”, but the fact that they’re intentionally standing/sitting there in the way of traffic seems like it should give the driver a better case. Of course, this would also give malicious drivers an excuse to just hit protesters even if they were able to react in time.

Considering (1) most road-blocking protests I’ve seen are in the USA, and (2) the Autobahn has the “no speed limit” rule, I’d like to know how such “traffic accidents” would play out it the USA and Germany.

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    Could you clarify what you mean by hitting? Is it slowly bumping with the front bumper? Or do you mean like running over? Repercussions for whom are you interested in? The driver? The protester? God? Mar 1 at 16:56
  • @KaiBurghardt High speed "that pedestrian blinked in and out of existence" kinda crash. Also, legal repercussions for the driver. Mar 2 at 6:47
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    Now answering this question will largely depend on evidence investigators find. (At least) in Germany an Autobahn is by definition a median-separated road with multiple lanes in each direction (except ramps). Usually there is also a paved service lane. Crossing the service lane (and maybe scaling guard rails) as a pedestrian takes, what, a second or two, so there is some time to notice pedestrians on the road and at least slow down. Does the driver swerve to avoid a collision? (Like i wrote there is space.) Do investigators find skid marks? Are the vehicle’s brakes in good condition? Mar 3 at 20:36
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    not enough for an answer, but worth noting: in germany, you have to drive so that you can stop if an obstacle is on the road. Kind of obvious, since otherwise a car breaking down would lead to people crashing into it. If there's fog, rain, curves, hills - you have to adjust your speed so you can still react to anything as soon as it comes into view. Obviously it's not always followed, but it plays a part in the legal side of the question. So the Autobahn, even where there's no signs for it, still has a speed limit in practice. Can be quite high though in those spots.
    – Syndic
    Mar 4 at 7:09
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    "I understand that intentionally hitting protesters who block the road is considered “Vehicular Misdemeanour”" Uh, what? Misdemeanour? When intentionally running someone over with a car? That sounds like an extremely serious felony, not a misdemeanour.
    – Stef
    Mar 4 at 21:32

3 Answers 3

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In the US, you can't intentionally run over someone, even if they are in the road. This is outside of traffic law and is a criminal offense - you aren't allowed to injure other people just because they inconvenience you. Hitting a pedestrian on an interstate who wandered into a lane would likely not be the fault of the driver.

In most states, blocking a road is unlawful, but it is not a justification for committing assault/battery/manslaughter.

There may be exceptions. Some states have tried to introduce laws to protect drivers who are blocked by protesters but I don't think any passed. Ostensibly these died in committee when lawmakers were reminded that people of their race and political orientation do protest also.

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    Note, however, that there can be further circumstances. There are plenty of protests that do more than just block traffic, where protesters start actually banging on cars or worse. At some point in that "or worse" sequence I would expect hitting protesters in an attempt to escape to be judged legal self-defense. Mar 2 at 0:51
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    @SoronelHaetir: The problem with trying to cite self-defense is that if you do end up committing assault/battery/manslaughter with the car, self-defense is a affirmative defense - there's a pretty high likelihood that you'd end up at trial before that defense is held up. Mar 2 at 8:54
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    What about intentionally driving forward at a slow enough speed for your car to just push a pedestrian out of the way without injuring them? I realize that this may be difficult or impractical to actually do, and won't help if the pedestrian falls over (possibly intentionally) to become prone in front of you, but what if someone successfully manages it?
    – Douglas
    Mar 2 at 18:32
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    @Douglas - That has "What if I just prod them with a knife, but don't actually stab them?" energy. I hope you now see the problem. Mar 2 at 22:36
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    @Douglas What you propose in your comment is between extremely unlikely or impossible. When a pedestrian is struck by a very slow moving car, they are not pushed out of the way. This is because their feet cannot easily slide along the ground except in unusual circumstances. The vast majority of road surfaces are not slippery enough. So the feet stay where they are and the part in contact with the car is pushed. Unless the pedestrian is willing and able to move their feet fast enough, they will be knocked over. So there’s no pushing, only convincing them to move willingly or knocking them down. Mar 3 at 22:59
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It is illegal to be a pedestrian on the Autobahn

The Road Code "Straßenverkehrsordnung" StVO dictates where you may walk as a pedestrian in §25:

  • You have to use a pedestrian way.
    • You are only allowed to use the car part of the road if there is no pedestrian way and then only in a specified manner.
    • If you transport bulky objects as a pedestrian that would block other pedestrians, special rules apply for using the car part of the road.
    • Crossing the car part of the road has to be done in a specified manner.

But there is a special paragraph that declares the Autobahn, the german Highway/Interstate system, to be off limits for pedestrians. §18 dictates:

(9) Zu Fuß Gehende dürfen Autobahnen nicht betreten. Kraftfahrstraßen dürfen sie nur an Kreuzungen, Einmündungen oder sonstigen dafür vorgesehenen Stellen überschreiten; sonst ist jedes Betreten verboten.

(9) People on foot may not step onto the Autobahn. Vehicle-restricted Roads are only allowed to be crossed at crossings, intersections or other dedicated places; otherwise any stepping on them is forbidden.

Luckily it is only a misdemeanor to violate StVO §18(9) and is only punished with a 10€ fine...

Criminal Pedestrians on the Autobahn

However, being on a vehicle-only road and trying to stop cars for nefarious reasons or doing something in a manner that impacts the traffic and creates danger is not just a misdemeanor, it can result in criminal charges.

First, let's assume the pedestrian is not just crossing the highway in a (somewhat) safe manner, such as to get off the Highway after a crash or to assist with a crash, or behaves reasonably at the sideline in a manner to warn of a present danger ahead. Those examples would surely be excusing emergencies when the StVO violation is put aside.

Instead, let's assume the pedestrian is intentionally trying to stop cars without a current imminent danger to those car drivers. Maybe he just feels like it. This could constitute a crime: §315b StGB, dangerous interference with road traffic, applies to creating obstructions that can result in the loss of life or limb. A pedestrian who stands on the Autobahn and juggles with flags to distract the traffic is likely to create a crash and this would fall under that.

Car user liability

A pedestrian's actions might still result in the driver being liable for the crash in some way. In 2019, a car collided with a pedestrian who was walking on the wrong side of the road at night at the halfway point of the lane. Despite the blatant violation of the road code §25, the car having been 40 kmh below the speed limit, and the pedestrian being the main reason for the crash, the driver was deemed 20% at fault because an ideal driver could have seen the man and averted the crash.

Why? Because to take part in road traffic, you are mandated to put full attention on the road at all times and be somewhat courteous in StVO §1.

Only when there was no chance to prevent the crash, the car user will get 0% fault for a crash. That is typically found when even an ideal, perfect driver would have ended in a crash, such as with a pedestrian throwing themselves from hiding in front of an oncoming car at high speed.

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The German Straßenverkehrsordnung (StVO) — the federal Road Traffic Regulations — very intentionally starts with the following paragraph 1:

(1) Die Teilnahme am Straßenverkehr erfordert ständige Vorsicht und gegenseitige Rücksicht.

(2) Wer am Verkehr teilnimmt hat sich so zu verhalten, dass kein Anderer geschädigt, gefährdet oder mehr, als nach den Umständen unvermeidbar, behindert oder belästigt wird.

Translation:

(1) Participating in traffic requires constant prudence and mutual consideration.

(2) Anyone participating in traffic must behave in such a way that no one else is harmed, endangered or hindered or inconvenienced more than is unavoidable under the circumstances.

These are the principles from which all traffic regulation emanates. Note that these provisions are unconditional. In particular, they do not contain any wording from which one could construe that traffic rule violators are exempt from their protection.

They are, lamentably, not well known. In particular, and particularly in Germany, people think that because somebody else violates a traffic rule, they now have a license to be inconsiderate, reckless, or even endanger the offender. For example, car drivers routinely do not slow down or change lanes when a pedestrian illegally crosses through a red light, which would be the prudent and considerate behavior required of them by the quoted §1 of the StVO. Instead, they honk, because they are right, and the pedestrian is wrong.

This is utterly wrong. Never, under no circumstances, may a driver intentionally endanger a pedestrian (or anyone else). Whether the pedestrian is legitimately on a crosswalk, walked through a red light or just fell from the sky: The driver must always, under all circumstances, drive carefully and mitigate any dangers; whether they have arisen because of the reckless behavior of the pedestrian or because of any other reason is entirely irrelevant.

This is also, exactly, what is required of drivers who encounter pedestrians on the motorway. It is irrelevant why the pedestrians are there and what their intentions are: The drivers must always and under all circumstances do everything under their control to minimize any danger for the pedestrians.

That said, intentionally walking onto a motorway in Germany is suicidal and, indirectly, may endanger others' lives as well. On some stretches, people regularly drive faster than 180 km/h (100 mph, 50 m/s or 164 feet/s, distance to full emergency stop more than 200m or 650 feet) and are not prepared to encounter stationary objects or people. Accidents happen frequently when drivers try to retrieve items that have fallen off cars on the motorway.

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    While both your and Trish's answer correctly cite from the German traffic law this answer is a lot more relevant to OPs question. Yes, the behavior of the protestor on the highway may be illegal but this doesn't change anything for the driver. It is still their duty to avoid accidents as well as they can.
    – quarague
    Mar 4 at 7:42
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    and that is part of why the driver in 2019 was hit with 20% fault as far as I am aware - he was on a Landstraße, wasn't prepared for a possible pedestrian and... well, the crash happened. At least the pedestrian survived for all I can tell.
    – Trish
    Mar 4 at 7:43
  • I heard it explained like this: pedestrian might be drunk, drugged, blind, deaf, legally declared insane, temporarily mad or suicidal etc you as the driver are the person behind the 2 ton piece of machinery. It is on you to handle that responsibility incredibly responsibly because it is not you who would normally get hurt or killed in collision but the pedestrian.
    – jo1storm
    Mar 4 at 11:57
  • @jo1storm Well, the pedestrian has exactly the same obligations as far as the StVO is concerned, and in walking into the traffic on a motorway they egregiously violate them. (I didn't dwell on that because it irrelevant.) The pedestrian may also (independently) be criminally culpable of dangerous interference with street traffic. Mar 4 at 12:07
  • @jo1storm The only place where the legislature makes a difference, acknowledging that a ton of steel moving at 100 mph is more dangerous than 100 kg of flesh moving at 2, is the mandatory liability insurance imposed on most motorized vehicles. Mar 4 at 12:18

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