German Federal Court of Justice (BGH): As a rule, no right before left in parking lots


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German Federal Court of Justice (BGH): As a rule, no right before left in parking lots

In a recent ruling, the Federal Court of Justice in Germany (BGH) decided that the “right before left” rule does not automatically apply in public parking lots. This means that the vehicle coming from the right does not automatically have the right of way. Since parking spaces are used not only for driving but also for maneuvering, loading, and unloading, it is safest if motorists show consideration for each other and agree on the right of way.

In the case, two motorists collided at the intersection of two driving lanes in a DIY store parking lot. Due to a parked semitrailer truck, they could not see each other in time and the car driver coming from the right believed he was not liable for the damage.

The lower courts referred to the apportionment of liability under Section 17 of the German Road Traffic Act (StVG) and assumed a liability ratio of 70 to 30 in favor of the plaintiff. However, this was not because he had come from the right, but on the fact that the defendant had been traveling too fast.
These decisions have now been confirmed by the BGH.
It is true that the German Road Traffic Regulations (StVO) are in principle also applicable to private parking lots if, as in this case, they have been made accessible to the public. However, since the DIY store lanes are not an intersection, the "right before left" rule of §8 StVO cannot be applied. An intersection exists only if two roads intersect. A road, in turn, is a roadway that serves flowing traffic. And this is not the case in a parking lot. This is because a parking lot is not a speedy place to drive due to cars parking in and out, maneuvering vehicles, and pedestrians. Consequently, strict right-of-way rules are not necessary.

The judges nevertheless warned that in the future, too, many drivers would assume that "right before left" also applies in parking lots, which is why a cautious driving style should be used and mistakes by other drivers should be expected.

A similar legal situation exists in Austria. There, the right-before-left rule applies to roads that have the same priority. According to a court ruling from 2012, the lanes in parking lots are not necessarily considered roads that serve flowing traffic but are maneuvering areas that are used exclusively to look for a free space or to park. Instead, the first paragraph of the Road Traffic Act applies: the requirement of mutual consideration. According to this requirement, all road users must behave in such a way that no other person is harmed, endangered or obstructed.

In Switzerland, the Federal Court ruled in a 2008 decision for parking garages that, in principle, right-before-left also applies in parking garages, unless otherwise signaled or marked on the ground. Only when leaving the parking area must traffic coming from the left also be given the right of way.

In other EU countries, there does not yet seem to be a precise provision for right-of-way rules in parking lots, so defensive driving is recommended.

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