Why bad driving might cost you your car in Denmark – even if it’s rented

Three months after a new law that allowed Danish police to seize vehicles of ‘crazy drivers,’ more than 230 vehicles have been confiscated, including nearly 100 rental or leased cars.

Why bad driving might cost you your car in Denmark - even if it’s rented
Photo: Linda Kastrup / Ritzau Scanpix

Three months after a Porsche 993 was seized by police for travelling at 212 km/h on Helsingør motorway, the leasing company that owned the vehicle still isn’t sure if the car will be returned to them.

The vehicle was confiscated as part of a new law that came into effect March 31st, the day before the Porsche was seized.

The law allows police to seize vehicles in the event of particularly bad driving. If agreed to by a judge, police can permanently confiscate and auction off the vehicle to the benefit of the Danish treasury. 

What is “crazy driving”?

Crazy driving (vanvidskørsel) includes manslaughter by negligence or causing significant injury by negligence. Vanvidskørsel also includes driving more than 100 percent above the speed limit if the speed limit is more than 100 km/h, driving more than 200 km/h regardless of speed limit, driving with a blood alcohol content above 2.0, and “particularly reckless driving.”

The law even applies to rented and leased vehicles, like the Porsche mentioned above, leased by Breinholt & Ree Leasing. In another instance, the police seized a car a man had borrowed from a family member when he was caught driving 100 km/h in a 50 km/h zone in Amager.

So if you’re on holiday in Denmark in a rental car, drive carefully or you could be left with no car and a huge bill from the very annoyed rental company.

How common is it for cars to be seized?

According to data from the national police, 237 vehicles have been seized in the three months since the law came into effect. Ninety-four of the vehicles were not being driven by the car’s owner at the time of seizure.

Is the whole decision up to the police?

After a car has been seized by police, it’s up to a judge to decide if the vehicle can be permanently confiscated. This comes down to whether the owner of the vehicle could know the driver might drive it in ways covered by this law.

Among other factors, the judge considers if the owner performed a background check on the customer. 

The Danish Parliament granted leasing companies the ability to view customers’ tax information (if the customer provides consent), as well as previous instances of insane driving listed on the offender’s criminal record.

If it’s a rented or leased vehicle, who foots the bill?

Rental agencies and leasing companies may require customers to foot the bill of the vehicle, if they are responsible for its seizure. If the customer cannot or will not pay, it’s possible for the loss to be covered by the leasing company’s insurance. 

Known as an F-declaration, the insurance company would pay the majority of the bill while the leasing company would chip in a small part. However, insurance companies have also baulked at the new law.

How are “crazy drivers” punished?

If the driver is in his or her own vehicle, the confiscation of the car is one form of punishment. 

Penalties for the most serious offences have also been increased, including an unconditional revocation of the drivers’ license for a minimum of three years.

Is there any chance this law might be changed?

On January 14th, the European Court of Justice declared that governments cannot confiscate rented, borrowed or leased vehicles if the owner of the car “acted in good faith.” 

The decision was upheld in March, which propelled Denmark’s Parliament to give leasing companies access to the tools they need to vet potential customers. However, the digital tools are not yet available three months after the law came into effect.

Denmark’s Transportation Ministry expects them to be ready this fall.

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European cities demand new rules to fine foreign drivers over low-emission zones

Representatives of 20 European cities are demanding help to enforce congestion charges and low emission zone rules on foreign drivers.

European cities demand new rules to fine foreign drivers over low-emission zones

Cities have written to the European parliament transport committee to complain that drivers from other countries easily escape fines because vehicle registration information can only be shared among countries with bilateral agreements.

In March, the European Commission proposed to update the Cross-Border Enforcement Directive, making it easier to fine foreign drivers who breach local traffic rules. The proposal covers a series of offenses, from overtaking dangerously to driving in the wrong direction or using overloaded vehicles. It does not mention, however, offences related to Urban Vehicle Access Regulations (UVARs).

A growing number of European cities have been introducing UVARs such as congestion charges and low emission zones to limit air pollution, increase road safety and reduce noise. 

“As local leaders, our role is to make our cities more liveable and pleasant for our citizens… Mitigating the impact of road traffic in our cities and rebalancing how we use public space remains a strong priority to reach these goals, including through so-called urban vehicle access regulations (‘UVARs’) such as limited traffic zones or low-emission zones,” the letter says.

“Our cities remain vibrant and attractive places. We welcome foreign vehicles, so we must ensure that driving rules in our cities equally apply to all drivers. However, enforcing UVAR rules on foreign vehicles remains challenging, leading to inequalities between the two groups [of citizens] and to the unfair treatment of national citizens,” it continues.

A document by the CLARS Platform, which provides an overview of congestion charges and low emissions zones in Europe, shows that in Milan, 75% of foreign drivers didn’t pay their fines for breaches of traffic zones and congestion charge in 2020, causing a loss of 6 million euros. In the German city of Aachen for example, 69% of unpaid low-emission zones tickets concerned foreign vehicles in 2022.

Denmark estimates there are around 3,822,000 DKK (around 512,000 euros) of unpaid fines related to low emission zones from foreign lorries and vans.

Cities fear that beyond the loss of revenues, this situation will make UVARs unacceptable to local drivers.

The letter, coordinated by Eurocities and Polis, two groups representing European cities in Brussels, was signed by representatives of the Barcelona, Bilbao, Amsterdam, Brussels, Paris, Strasbourg, Rome, Padova and Stockholm, among others.

They argued that if UVARs are included in the directive, EU member states and their cities will be allowed “to collect technical vehicle information from vehicles entering an UVAR” and “process them in full compliance with the relevant data protection rules.”

The European Parliament’s transport committee will vote on the directive on November 29. If new rules are passed, they will have to be adopted by the parliament plenary and the EU Council too.