When the handheld signal beckons: Correct behavior during inspections in Germany and abroad

Police Inspection
Europe is a land of road transport. No matter how many waterways there are here, no matter how many freight trains are rolling, at the latest on the last mile almost everything between wind turbine rotor blade and Christmas tree ball is moved by a road transporter. Since Europe also has very strict laws regarding driving and rest times, load securing, and the general technical condition of tractor units and trailers, it is normal for truckers to be pulled out of traffic sooner or later by the state officials in blue for a little entertainment. But how drivers behave has a decisive influence on the duration and outcome of such checks.

The fact that police officers detect violations during truck inspections is common practice in a region of the world with such a high volume of transport traffic as Europe. But to find 101 violations of the weekly rest periods alone in 53 inspected trucks within a few hours of action is remarkable – as happened in Belgium in the summer of 2022.

More experienced readers might be able to imagine what happened during this action and how the truckers who were caught felt. Newcomers to the industry may not yet know the feeling when BAG or a similar organization waves a trowel or flashes the “please follow” sign. But that’s not a problem – because the most important thing to show now are universal rules of politeness. And these apply in all European nations and beyond the borders of the confederation.

1. Do not feel caught

Any form of police check makes you nervous: “Did I really do everything right?” inevitably shoots through your mind. But as long as you are not aware of any violations, there is really no reason to worry. It is not about harassment or finding any violations “by force”. 

Such controls are set up because it is simply too often trucks and smaller vans that are significantly involved in accidents – because something did not go according to the rules. Checks are therefore only a form of prophylactic protective measure. 

For this reason alone, it is essential to stay cool. 

Furthermore, every driver is advised to carry all his documents in a well-organized folder. Having to search for the various accompanying documents at length not only prolongs the inspection, but also, as experience has shown, increases the driver’s own nervousness.

2. Signal readiness and follow

Not every police checkpoint will direct you comfortably to the next rest area or another suitable location. Especially if the officers sit in front of you in the vehicle, the request should therefore be confirmed – a short signal with the hazard warning lights is a good way to do this.

However, please do not frantically try to eliminate any violations quickly. Anyone who was not wearing a seat belt, for example, should not try to do so now. Officials have probably already noticed it when overtaking or register it when the truck starts to lurch slightly as a result of attempts to fasten the seat belt at highway speed.

However, drivers should be sure to keep their seat belts fastened, lower the side window after stopping, and position their hands so that officers can see them – the latter is especially true abroad. Only when asked should you open the door and get out. Not least because of terrorist activities, even in Europe many police officers have become extremely cautious in this regard.

3. Note any communication problems immediately

When foreign police officers stop a truck with clearly visible “D” license plates, they naturally assume they will not be addressed in their native language. Nevertheless, drivers who are not particularly fluent in English should come right out with it after a polite greeting.

At least the two obligatory sentences

  • “I am German, my English is not so good” (zu Deutsch: Ich bin Deutscher, mein Englisch ist nicht so gut) und
  • “I would like to have an Interpreter” (zu Deutsch: Ich möchte einen Dolmetscher haben)

should really be mastered by every trucker – no matter how “German” his English may sound. The interpreter thing becomes relevant at the latest when it comes to violations. Quite simply, if you don’t understand what you are supposed to have done wrong and/or what the consequences are, you should insist on an interpreter as a driver.

This will make the check longer, but when it comes to fines and worse, there should be no questions left unanswered that are merely due to language communication problems.

4. Never become gruff or even offensive 

Probably every driver today has a pretty tight schedule. A police check probably doesn’t figure in it and, moreover, is no substitute for a break. 

But again, it’s not the police officers’ fault, they are just carrying out instructions from their superiors. Of course, there are inspectors who really take it too seriously, but even such people are no reason to behave in a visibly unpleasant manner.

This is especially true when it comes to language. You may indeed be standing at a rest area behind Warsaw and the two policemen are wearing Polish police uniforms. However, if you believe that you can give impertinent answers or worse in German with impunity and without being noticed, you may be really unlucky. Even if one completely ignores the European freedom of movement, experienced truck inspectors are usually at least fundamentally conversant in the languages of their typical “target group members”. 

Once again, therefore, the request for politeness applies. Stay calm, if necessary make the famous “fist in your pocket”. Anything else can prolong the inspection, cause additional problems or prompt the officers to extend a superficial check of driving times and load securing to a meticulous detailed examination – which would be a disservice to the driver.

5. Answer honestly and show

Actually, twelve tension belts would be required for the load. However, because one was worn out and there was no time, there are now only eleven. Of course, that’s a violation without any excuse. However, it is really not written anywhere that a driver must point out this condition on his own initiative.

The EU and many other states with the rule of law know the principle according to which everyone has the right not to incriminate himself – summarized mutatis mutandis. That is: 

  • According to the questions of the officers should be answered honestly.
  • Whatever the police officers want to see should be made available to them.

Beyond that, however, drivers should keep themselves in check. The officers should ask the questions and find out for themselves if something is wrong. If they miss something in the process, it’s not the driver’s fault. 

Incidentally, at least in Germany, it is permitted to film police actions if what is being said is public – i.e. directed at the driver, for example. 

But what if a violation is detected and stopped? Then, if necessary, drivers should only consent under recorded protest – although one simply has to assume that within the EU things are always done in accordance with the rule of law and that every noted violation is actually one.

6. Drive away politely and inform the company

For some truckers with telemetry in the vehicle, the cell phone will sometimes already ring when the “unscheduled break” has begun. In such cases, however, the call should tend to be pushed away – that’s when the check actually takes precedence. 

However, if you have said goodbye to the officers in a similarly polite manner as you have behaved throughout the check, it should be obligatory to notify the dispatcher. After all, checks may well take an hour or more. Such delays should not be blamed on the driver. Ergo, the company must know what was going on.





Janine Wolff
Janine Wolff is a business economist and design enthusiast, has a passion for blogging and logistics and is our Social Media and Content Manager at Saloodo!.

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