The videos are a controversial topic, but they're no longer legal.
Where, oh where, have all of the Nurburgring crash videos gone? Years ago, YouTube was filled with crash compilations of the famous German racetrack as far as the eye can see, because who isn't intrigued by a massive 10-car racing crash? Over time, the videos have become increasingly scarce, and instead of featuring crashes, 'Nurburgring Fail' videos are mostly spins and drifts.
This isn't because amateur drivers have miraculously improved, but because the Nurburgring decided to put its foot down on the matter. More than this, it is illegal under German law to publish photos or videos of these crashes.
Racing, as much as we all love it in the automotive community, can be a contentious topic for non-car enthusiasts and governments alike. At the end of the day, there are more of them than there are of us, and when public perception turns sour, it can lead to tracks becoming more restrictive or even shutting down.
Is the Nurburgring going to get shut down? We'd sooner believe Ford would get rid of the Mustang, but that doesn't mean the racetrack doesn't have to worry about outside pressure.
With that in mind, let's dive into the Nurburgring's crash video policies, German privacy laws, and the history behind it all.
Part of what makes the Nurburgring, and specifically the Nordschleife, so unique are the iconic touristenfahrten or tourist drive sessions. Available practically every day during the racing season, this unique session legally turns the track into a tolled public road, allowing anyone with a valid license and road-legal vehicle to drive the Green Hell with other tourists. Open to almost any vehicle - so long as they comply with a minimum speed limit capability - and costing only €30 per lap, it's a racing session for the people that has become a pilgrimage for gearheads worldwide.
The issue with these sessions is that preparation for drivers is minor, and their skill levels vary wildly. Many get to the track thinking they're heroes in overpriced sports cars, which, naturally, has the potential to end in disaster. When crashes happen, morbid curiosity makes it hard for us to look away.
We don't know who first got it in their head to compile crash footage into a YouTube video, but they started a trend that's become highly lucrative for media at the 'Ring. For a while, this seemingly went on without issue, but a few years ago, it appeared the race track finally had enough.
Judging by YouTube content of the last 15 years, the assumption is that crashes happen daily at the Nurburgring. But the reality is actually that crashes are rare. We reached out to the Nurburgring to find out about its stance on crash footage and were given the statistics regarding incidents. These aren't just high-speed crashes and accidents, and the track is considering an 'incident' to include even brief brushes with the guardrail.
In 2023 so far, there has been an average of one incident for every 7,340 miles driven during tourist sessions. Considering these are miles driven aggressively, and often under the guise of cocky bravado of every driver thinking of themselves as the next Max Verstappen, that's an impressively low incident rate.
But the YouTube videos make it seem far worse. The track feels "the portrayal in the so-called crash videos and compilations distorts the purpose and the high safety standards of tourist rides, as they falsely create the impression that incidents occur here several times and at short intervals." Instead, these videos are compilations of crashes shot over weeks or even months.
Focusing so much on the crashing at the Nurburgring is bad publicity. This came to light in 2019 when YouTuber and Nurburgring expert Misha Charoudin explained the details of the Nurburgring Media Pass that he needed to continue publishing 'Ring-related content on social media.
Apart from the fact that crash footage may hurt the track's reputation, it also hurts drivers involved in the crashes and gives politicians who would sooner see the racetrack's influence curtailed more ammunition for doing so.
While we may enjoy watching these compilations, crash footage doesn't put into perspective just how bad of a day some drivers are having. Many spend thousands of dollars to travel to the 'Ring, buy or rent a car, pay admission, and then have to deal with the physical damage and emotional trauma of their dream turned sour.
Once they've dealt with the fallout of a poor split-second decision, they make it home only to see their mistake plastered all over social media. It's demoralizing, to say the least.
In a more recent video, Charoudin detailed how he crashed his Toyota GR86. He explains why he cut out the impact of his crash in the video and says that, somewhere along the way, drivers had enough of their crashes being posted online. They started going after the track with lawsuits instead of the 'nobody' with 30 subscribers who published it, and thus, the track had to start taking a more defensive stance against the practice.
To protect itself, the Nurburgring instituted Media Passes for anyone interested in shooting pictures or videos for profit. Everyone would be vetted beforehand, and their final product would have to be approved by the 'Ring if they ever wanted to make money from it.
But beyond this, there's also a little detail that's important to know: Under German law, it is illegal to publish crash footage from tourist drives.
Germany isn't as open about recording members of the public as the US is, regarding privacy to be something of the utmost importance.
Striking a balance between privacy and operating a business, anyone driving around the Nurburgring automatically gives permission for their vehicles to be photographed and recorded by accredited media. However, every driver has the right to refuse this.
According to a Nurburgring representative, "This is done by placing a sticker on the car. These stickers are available free of charge at various distribution points at the Nurburgring prior to participation in the tourist drives. The observance of this objection applies to all accredited photographers, film crews, or content creators. Photos and videos with these vehicles may not be distributed or made available to third parties."
However, even if you give permission (by not having a sticker), the license to take photos and video automatically expires in the event of an accident.
Section 201a of the German Criminal Code is known as the Onlooker Law in English or Gaffer-Gesetz in German. This law makes it practically impossible to film someone in Germany without their consent, regardless of the location. Specifically, the law refers to the violation of someone's privacy by producing a photograph or video depicting the "helplessness of another person." Any photos or video of someone that may "significantly damage the reputation of the person depicted" also falls under this legislation, with the penalty for both being a fine or up to two years in prison. This also applies to photographs or other imagery of Nurburgring deaths, like the recent Goodyear accident that saw two engineers killed in a car accident during the 'Ring's Industry Pool testing.
In 2019, news started circulating that one of the most popular Nurburgring YouTube channels, Auto Addiction, had been banned from the racetrack after the track called the police to escort them from the premises. In a complicated situation, blame was pointed at both sides about why it happened.
In a curious turn of events, in 2021, Auto Addiction announced it had been unbanned from the racetrack and had even been granted a Nurburgring Media Pass. In a short video, the channel explained what happened and defended itself, but also agreed that its videos may have insinuated the track was more dangerous than it is.
But if you view the channel now, you'll still find crash footage. Earlier this year, an hour-and-a-half-long video called "EPIC NURBURGRING CRASH & FAIL Compilation! 1.5 HOURS of Nordschleife Crashes, Fails & Mistakes!" showcased a decade's worth of Nurburgring crashes. So what gives?
The crashes featured in these videos are not from Tourist Drives, but rather race car wrecks from actual motorsport events. It's a loophole that has allowed the "Nurburgring Fails" phenomenon to lure in viewers without getting the channel and others of its ilk in trouble with German authorities.
Many of the Nurburgring crash videos you see today are of races instead of tourist sessions. Crashes are a part of racing, and, unfortunately, garner views and interest. It's expected that a professional racing crash will be filmed and shown, and thus it appears the track is okay with compilations along these lines.
As long as crashes happen, they'll be covered. We've written about many a Nurburgring crash over the years, and some of them are so unique it's impossible not to talk about them. When a Koenigsegg One:1 crashes at the Green Hell in pursuit of a lap record, it's news car enthusiasts want to hear about, for example.
The difference now is that any compilation regarding tourist sessions now focuses on "fails" or "dangerous driving" instead of a crash. This means going off into the grass, spinning out, or almost causing a crash, but falling short of showing someone make contact with the barriers or another driver. It seems a more forgiving way of showing the reality of the track.
We don't know if the trend of creating Nurburgring crash content should or should not exist, but we do know that as long as the 'Ring exists, so will crash content. Something will find its way online no matter how hard the track tries to mitigate it, but it's a topic worth discussing.