Owner investigations may be necessary in various cases. Specifically, the determination of owner data within the scope of the Road Traffic Act (StVG) is necessary above all when cases of damage and/or administrative offences have occurred. This point is particularly important because, in terms of data protection law, there must always be a valid reason for a holder investigation to be carried out.
Good reasons for a holder investigation
In order to carry out a holder investigation in Germany, there must be good reasons, otherwise the data will not be released by the competent authorities. First and foremost, such valid reasons relate to cases of damage or violations of the Road Traffic Act.
- Traffic accidents / hit and run,
- Violation of speed limits,
- Incorrect or long-term parking and any associated blocking of access roads and driveways.
But also violations of the law, such as the theft of fuel at petrol stations, fall under the grounds for establishing a vehicle owner.
Institutions of the holder investigation
The first institution to be mentioned here is the police. In procedural and investigative matters, the police always have the right to obtain information about the owners of motor vehicles from the competent authorities and also have access to speed camera photos. However, private individuals can also initiate owner investigations themselves, either through a lawyer or a professional service provider, if they can prove and assert a valid reason, primarily damage or legal claims. In this case, in Germany, for example, the registration authority and the Federal Motor Transport Authority are obliged to hand over data.
Clarification of the w-questions
1) How can a vehicle owner be identified?
In the first instance, through the number plate. If the number plate is not known, an owner can also be determined by additional information such as the model of the vehicle, the colour and the make. The authorities responsible for Germany are the vehicle registration authority of the responsible road traffic office and the Federal Motor Transport Authority.
2) When is an owner investigation carried out?
Owner investigations are always necessary when traffic accidents, administrative offenses and other infringements occur in road traffic and the owner is unknown.
3) Who is allowed to carry out an owner investigation?
The police, insurance companies and companies such as car park or petrol station operators are allowed to investigate the owner of a vehicle in the event of damage or fuel theft. Private individuals are also allowed to determine the owner of another vehicle in accordance with §39 of the Road Traffic Act if they are entitled to claims due to traffic accidents, for example. However, this may also be done with the help of professional service providers or lawyers.
4) When is it permissible for private individuals to determine the owner of a vehicle?
Due to data protection laws in Germany, private individuals are not allowed to carry out an owner investigation on their own without good reason. This primarily arises when (damage) claims have arisen, for example as a result of traffic accidents. Even if, for example, damage has been caused during a parking incident and it is necessary to contact the owner of the damaged car, it is permissible to initiate an investigation into the owner. However, in both cases of damage and of having been damaged, it is advisable to involve the police, as they can not only carry out owner investigations more easily, but also initiate the appropriate procedures. In some other countries, such as Switzerland, private individuals are allowed to conduct an owner investigation even without good cause.
5) What are the costs of an owner investigation?
In Germany, for example, a holder investigation costs €5.10 via the Federal Motor Transport Authority. The costs vary greatly depending on the country. In Austria the costs are €15.30, in Spain even about €28.00.
6) What happens if the holder & driver are not the same person in an investigation?
First of all, it is assumed that the owner and driver are the same person. However, if this is obviously not the case (e.g. if speed camera photos clearly show that it is not the same person), the owner of the car will receive a witness questionnaire asking for information about the person who was driving the vehicle at the time of the incident.
7) How can I identify an owner with a foreign number plate?
In the event that a vehicle registered abroad needs to be traced, it is a good idea to seek assistance from appropriate service providers. The procedures vary greatly from country to country, which makes it difficult for non-professionals to successfully identify the owner abroad.
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