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February 27, 2018, marks a break in the Germany automotive sector. It is a caesura of sorts for diesel. Nearly a year ago the Federal Administrative Court in Leipzig announced a groundbreaking verdict:

A status quo

Cities can impose driving bans on diesel-driven vehicles (as well as on very old cars with benzine-engines) in order to reduce air pollution in urban areas. The verdict came amidst an already heated debate: The European Union had threatened the German government with a lawsuit as German cities continued to exceed the European limits for pollutants.

Since the judgment of the Federal Administrative Court, the NGO Deutsche Umwelthilfe has been filing lawsuits against German cities in order to enforce driving bans for diesel vehicles in urban areas. Due to pressure from the courts, more and more cities are blocking areas for older diesel engines – sometimes single streets, sometimes certain environmental zones, sometimes even whole neighborhoods.

Regardless of one’s individual opinion on these driving-bans, they are currently leading to more confusion than clarification. Where can diesel-driven vehicles still drive, where aren’t they allowed? What is the current state of the debate? So the NMW team summarised it for you. Diesel bans – a status quo:

In Which Cities Do We Already Have Rulings on Diesel Bans?

Aachen: The regional administrative court decided in favor of the introduction of driving bans last year. The city of Aachen, however, appealed the verdict. Now the case lies with the Higher Administrative Court in Münster. As long as this court hasn’t come to a decision, the appeals procedure has a suspensive effect on the introduction of the ban. In the meantime, the city of Aachen has developed a concept to reduce air pollution with the goal to meet the current limits for pollutants – without enforcing driving bans. Now, the court needs to be convinced of this concept. You can find out more here.

Berlin: The administrative court of Berlin ruled on a lawsuit filed by the DUH in October 2018. The verdict: From July 2019 on, driving bans for diesel-driven vehicles will be introduced on eleven road sections. In addition, the speed-limitations of 30 km/h need to be introduced to 106 other road sections. The city of Berlin will not appeal against the verdict. This was announced by the city’s Senator for Environment Regine Günther in December. You can find out more here.

Bonn & Cologne: Beginning in April 2019, driving bans against diesel vehicles of the Euro 4 emission class or lower will apply in Cologne and Bonn. By September, the ban will be extended to the Euro 5 standard. While two busy roads in Bonn are affected by the bans, Cologne needs to enforce them within an environmental zone that includes the city centre and other parts of the city. The state of North Rhine-Westphalia has already announced its intention to appeal this verdict. Again, this suspends the introduction of the ban until a final judgment is made. You can find out more here.

Darmstadt: Here the Deutsche Umwelthilfe and the state of Hesse settled out of court on a driving ban from June 2019 onwards. This applies to two roads and affects vehicles of the Euro 5 class (and lower) and benzine engines of Euro 2 Class (and lower). Another element of the out-of-court settlement is the Green City Plan, which sees the increased support of public transport and cycling. If the NO2-pollution in Darmstadt doesn’t fall in the second half of 2019, this plan will be further tightened. You can find out more here.

Essen: As of July 2019, diesel-driven cars below the Euro 5 standard will have to stop in 18 of the city’s 50 districts. In addition, the ban will be extended to Euro 5 diesel vehicles in September 2019. For the first time in Germany, a highway will be affected by the bans as well. Diesel vehicles will soon only be allowed to drive on the A40 to a limited extent – one of the most important traffic arteries of the Ruhr area. You can find out more here.

Frankfurt: The driving ban within the environmental zone of the Frankfurt highway junction should already be enforced from this month on (and in September 2019 even be extended to Euro-5 diesel). However, the city of Frankfurt appealed against the court ruling. Here as well the situation is in limbo and the ban has not yet come into effect. The Administrative Court in Frankfurt questioned the proportionality principle of large traffic prohibition zones, which makes changes to the previous ruling possible. You can find out more here.

Gelsenkirchen: The only street affected by the ban in Gelsenkirchen is one of the city’s main traffic arteries: The Kurt-Schumacher-Straße. From July 2019 onwards, only diesel vehicles of the Euro 6 standard will be allowed to operate there. You can find out more here.

Hamburg: While the bans have not yet come into effect in many cities, diesel vehicles below the Euro 6 standard are already forbidden to drive on a total track length of 2.2 kilometres in the metropolis on the Elbe since May 31, 2018. You can find out more here.

Mainz: It is not yet decided if, when and where driving bans in the city will be enforced. The local administrative court granted a reprieve: If the city keeps meeting the EU-limits regarding pollutants and emissions in the first half of 2019, driving bans are not necessary. However, if the limits are exceeded, the court will impose driving bans. You can find out more here.

Munich: The Bavarian capital finds itself between heaven and hell: Although the air quality is better than expected (so large restriction zones are probably off the table for now), driving bans may be necessary for particularly polluted streets. The city wants to avoid this situation, as in their eyes driving bans would only shift the traffic to alternative roads and thus the pollutant problem would not be solved. You can find out more here.

Stuttgart: Since the start of the new year, driving bans for diesel of the Euro 4 standard and lower have come into effect within the city centre (now a low-emission zone). You can find out more here.

The Debate Over Diesel Driving Bans Has Been Fanned Again

The discussion on diesel-bans has always been emotional in German society but it recently reached new heights. The reason: More than 100 German pulmonary physicians signed a paper in which they question the health risks resulting from nitrogen oxide and demand a review of the applicable limit values. Federal Transport Minister Andreas Scheuer called on municipalities and cities to resist driving bans afterwards. And in Stuttgart protest marchs based on the “gilets jaunes” protests in France were formed against the imposed driving bans.

On the other side is Federal Environment Minister Svenja Schulze. She sees no reason to mitigate limits and regretted the distortion of facts in the current debate. In response to the letter by German pulmonary specialists, the International Lung Society Forum (FIRS) reiterated the standards of the European Union and the World Health Organization (WHO), pointing out the health consequences of high concentrations of pollutants for the lungs and other organs.

What is needed are creative ideas to solve the problems revolving around air quality and to find a way out of the constant confusion. Therefore, Dirk Evenson, director of the New Mobility World, emphasises that cities must not be driven by court rulings, but must take an active and creative role in improving air quality in cities themselves: “It’s ultimately in their hands: they have the data, they manage the public space for infrastructures of all kinds, they decide on access for vehicles and services. This power of organisation is an opportunity that the cities best combine. Technology, concepts, partners: It’s all there. What is needed now is cooperation, financing, implementation. And, above all, ambition and impatience.”

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