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New cross-border exchange of information helps police pursue traffic offences abroad

New cross-border exchange of information helps police pursue traffic offences abroad

New European Union rules meaning member states, including the UK, have to share information on drivers relating to traffic offences, come into effect on 7 May - with significant implications for fleets.  

The so-called Cross-Border Enforcement Directive, actually came into force two years ago, but the UK, Denmark and Ireland secured a derogation giving them until next month to implement the new rules. Finland and Portugal have yet to implement the Directive.

Critically, there could be widespread implications for fleets as there are differences in member state laws around whether the driver or the registered keeper of a vehicle is responsible following an offence.

The Directive enables European Union drivers to be identified for offences committed in a member state other than the one where their vehicle is registered.  

In practical terms, the Directive provides member states access to each other’s vehicle registration data via an electronic information system to exchange the necessary information in which the offence was committed and the country in which the vehicle was registered.  

Once the vehicle owner’s name and address are known, a letter to the presumed offender may be sent, on the basis of a model established by the Directive. However, it is for the member state where the offence was committed to decide on the follow-up.  

The Directive covers the eight most common traffic offences: Speeding, failing to use a seatbelt, failing to stop at a red traffic light, drink-driving, driving while under the influence of drugs, failing to wear a safety helmet, the use of a forbidden lane and illegally using a mobile telephone or any other communication devices while driving.
The Directive does not harmonise either the nature of the offences, nor the system of sanctions for the offences. So it is the national rules in the member state of offence, which continue to apply regarding both the nature of the offence and sanctions.  

Commenting on the law change, RAC spokesman Simon Williams said: “While we are supportive of the principle of cross-border law enforcement, we are fearful differences in member state laws around whether the driver or the registered keeper of a vehicle is responsible following an offence will mean some European Union drivers committing certain offences in the UK will wrongly escape punishment. In this sense the Cross-Border Enforcement Directive is a bit of a misnomer as it doesn’t create a level cross-border enforcement playing field.

“Of course, it’s right that any UK driver found to be breaking motoring laws in another European country will have to face the relevant penalty as this has been an unacceptable loophole for too many years, but equally, it is also right that any motorist in charge of a European-registered vehicle found to be exceeding a speed limit, or other such offence, in the UK should face the consequences in his or her own country.  

“Unfortunately the application of the Directive is simply not practical. In the UK it is the driver of a speeding vehicle who receives penalty points whereas in France it is the vehicle’s registered keeper who is deemed to be responsible. This means a French person caught speeding in the UK could get away with the offence if they were not the registered keeper of the vehicle concerned, as the French equivalent of the DVLA can only pass details of the offence to the keeper. This may make prosecution extremely hard for UK authorities.  

“And if a UK driver is caught speeding in France in a vehicle they are not the owner of, they too might get away with the fine as the registered keeper in the UK would be pursued by the French authorities to pay. While the keeper can state in response they were not the driver, the big question is: will French authorities pursue and fine keepers who claim they weren’t driving at the time?  

“The RAC has, however, been advised by the Department for Transport that there is no transfer of penalty points to UK drivers’ licences for speeding offences committed abroad.  

“We strongly recommend every motorist travelling to Europe by car familiarises themselves with the local rules of the road as it is ultimately their responsibility to do so.”