KARLSRUHE, Germany - A German court sent a stern message to the country's speeding motorists on Wednesday by sentencing a driver to 18 months in prison for causing an accident which killed a young mother and infant.
In a country famed for its high speed autobahns, many with no speed limits, the conviction of 34-year-old Rolf Fischer for death by reckless driving was designed as a warning to thousands of so-called "Raser" (racers), who hit speeds of up to 300 km/hr (180 mph) and use fear tactics such as flashing lights and blaring horns to force slower cars out of overtaking lanes.
"The ruling makes clear that speeders and those who tail-gate dangerously will face harsh punishment," Iris Gleicke, deputy transport minister, told German television.
The verdict has led to renewed calls for blanket speed limits on all German motorways with the crash attracting media attention.
"Drivers like this who use their cars as weapons should no longer be given just a slap on the wrist with small fines," said Rene Wassmer, head of the VCD German motoring club.
"All our European neighbors have speed limits on motorways, and they've been waiting for Germany to make concessions so that Europe will be able to harmonize safety," he added.
But the German car industry has fought bitterly against mandatory speed limits, saying it would lead to job losses because motorways free of speed limits are essential for the overseas image of German cars.
The car sector is one of the country's most important export industries with Porsche, BMW, Mercedes and Volkswagen selling millions of fast cars around the world each year.
The 21-year-old woman's car was forced to change lanes by speeding Fischer in his 500-horsepower Mercedes CL 600 Coupe in July last year. She lost control of the car and it collided with a tree, killing her and her two-year-old daughter instantly.
He denied any involvement but prosecutors were able to link him to the scene by reconstructing his journey by locating his cell phone calls and fuel station receipts.