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How British motorists could lose their licences for driving offences abroad

James Watkins - Law on the Web

  1. 05 March 2015
  2. Cars and Motoring
  3. 0 comments
European road sign

British drivers may soon find it a lot more difficult to escape punishment for driving offences committed elsewhere in Europe.

The change is due to new legislation that could make it easier for authorities in EU member states to track down drivers from other member states who break the law on their roads.

Driving offences in the EU

As things stand, you can only be fined for a driving offence abroad if you are actually stopped by a police officer – for example, if you are caught speeding on camera in France or Germany, you are likely to escape punishment, unless you are driving a rental car and police can trace you through the rental car company.

However, upcoming legislation will give police from EU member states the power to access the records of drivers in other EU countries. Police forces will be able to find out an offender’s name and address using their vehicle registration, and issue fines through the post.

If the driver in question fails to pay the fine, the force will be able to pursue legal action in a court in the driver’s country (French police could take you to court over here, for example).

The rules will apply to a number of different driving offences, including speeding, drink driving and driving while using a mobile phone. British police will have the same powers to track down foreign drivers.

The changes will come into effect for British drivers in 2017 – they are set to come into force across the rest of Europe in May, but the UK has been given two extra years so that the DVLA can update its systems.

Why the new crackdown?

“To meet the new EU target of cutting road deaths by half in Europe we need new and more effective road-safety tools – such as this directive – to make sure offenders are held to account,” says Spanish MEP Ines Ayala Sender. “Citizens are, of course, never thrilled to receive a letter telling them they have been caught committing a traffic offence, but they do welcome the fact that everyone in the EU will be treated equally, no matter where their vehicle is registered.”

The UK government appears satisfied with the move, albeit with a proviso that the playing field should be level for all EU member states.

“It’s not right that foreign drivers have gone unpunished for speeding offences in the UK, and we are pleased this is set to change,” a Department for Transport spokesman said. “But it mustn’t be easier for British drivers to be prosecuted abroad than for foreign drivers to be prosecuted in the UK. We have made this clear from the outset of the negotiations.”

Harmonisation of penalty points

However, the government has stated its outright opposition to another proposal, which would see drivers receiving penalty points for offences committed in other EU countries.

This proposed ‘harmonisation’ of penalty points has been dismissed by roads minister Robert Goodwill as “inappropriate”. The current legislation will not introduce this, but the European Commission will review whether or not it should be added to the legislation next year.

"We will defend the rights of British drivers and we have been clear throughout the negotiations that people’s private data must be protected,” said Mr Goodwill. “Nothing in the new directive will allow a country to impose penalty points on the licence of a driver from another member state.

“The government will oppose any such proposal.”

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