Karlsruhe – Once again, there is a lot of air about exhaust gases: Cities want to reduce pollution with the help of environmental zones and traffic bans for trucks. But again and again truck drivers don’t stick to it from the point of view of local residents.
Affected people from Stuttgart have complained through the courts – in favor of their health. For the first time, the Federal Court of Justice (BGH) in Karlsruhe had to clarify whether private individuals have a legal right to take action against it. However, Germany’s top civil judges ruled on Tuesday that they were not entitled to an injunctive relief “from any legal point of view”. (Ref. VI ZR 110/21)
This was the specific case
In the specific case, it was about trucks from a forwarding company that use a road to the port of Stuttgart, for which a lorry ban applies. Only delivery traffic is allowed according to the signage. However, the trucks used the route several times a day as a mere passage from the branch to the motorway and thus violated the ban, the plaintiffs claim. The lower courts had already decided that as individual citizens or property residents they could not take action against the company.
The BGH emphasized that the truck ban was not ordered for certain streets in order to reduce the concentration of pollutants for the residents there – but basically for the entire city area in order to generally improve the air quality and to counteract the exceeding of immission limit values. “In this respect, the plaintiffs only benefit as part of the general public.” The protection of individual interests is therefore not the intention of the ban.
According to the BGH, in order to assess this, it is not the effect that matters, but the content, purpose and history of a law. It is therefore necessary to check whether the legislature wanted legal protection for individuals or certain groups of people when the law was passed. It is not enough that – as in this case – individual health can be protected if everyone obeys the law.
Cities have these opportunities
Cities have various options for curbing the burden of exhaust gases and pollutants. An example are environmental zones, in which only vehicles that comply with certain emission standards are allowed to drive. There are stickers for this that are attached to the windshield. According to the Federal Environment Agency, there are 56 environmental zones in Germany.
Stuttgart, for example, as part of the clean air plan, decided not only to introduce the environmental zone but also to ban trucks from passing through. It has applied to trucks over 3.5 tons since March 2010. Delivery traffic is excluded. For example, trucks that only want to cross the city are to be forced to take other routes and, as a result, the air quality in the state capital is to be improved.
One of the plaintiffs is an association that runs a day-care center with a playground. According to the judgment of the Stuttgart district court, the plaintiffs argued that the truck ban served as part of the city’s air pollution control action plan to protect the health of the population. According to the underlying EU directive, it should ensure less fine dust and nitrogen oxide pollution.
Forwarding agency: There were no instructions
The forwarding company denied having instructed drivers to use the road despite the ban. They were instructed about the transit zone and encouraged to follow the traffic rules. In addition, all journeys in and out of the zone are delivery traffic as long as the container loading point is approached at the branch or the journey begins there.
Among other things, the regional court justified its decision as follows: A merely abstract danger to the health of the residents is not sufficient for claims for injunctive relief. There was no bodily harm or damage to the health of the plaintiffs or the children entrusted to them in the sense of an illness. Also, the contribution of the forwarding agent to the emission of pollutants cannot be precisely measured.
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