MEPs back data sharing to punish bad driving

Outer London traffic. [nikoretro/Flickr]

Member states will be able to identify and fine foreign drivers committing traffic offences after the European Parliament approved today (11 February) a law allowing them to share information on car registries.  

Road users who infringe a range of motoring offences in another EU state often avoid financial retribution because the national enforcement agencies cannot identify them. 

Non-resident drivers account for 5% of the road traffic in the EU, but around 15% of speeding offences according to the European Commission. For example, in France speeding offences committed by non-residents motorists reach 25% of the total number of offences, and reach 40–50% during very busy periods of the year. 

“Every traffic victim is one too many,” said Transport Commissioner Violeta Bulc during the plenary session of the European Parliament.

In order to have safer roads, the bill will set up a system for cross-border exchange of information within the union. It will also help member states hold all EU drivers accountable and improve road safety by reducing the number of casualties.

“[This law] will serve as a deterrent for foreign drivers who are now aware that it is possible for them to be notified of any offences they commit whilst abroad,” said the European Parliament rapporteur Ines Ayala Sender MEP, a Spanish social democrat.

“Citizens are of course never thrilled to receive a letter telling them they committed a traffic offence, but they too welcome the fact that everyone in the EU will be treated equally, no matter where their vehicle is registered,” Ayala Sender MEP continued. 

Only eight traffic offences are covered by EU law on cross-border traffic information exchange. Car users will be fined if found liable for speeding, not using a seatbelt, failing to stop at red lights, drunk driving, driving under the influence of drugs, not wearing a safety helmet, using a forbidden lane, and illegally using a mobile phone while driving.    

Old rule, new scope

It is not the first time the bill has been brought before the members of the European Parliament. The European Commission came forward with such a proposal in 2010. After three years of negotiations in the European Parliament and the Council, policymakers agreed to adopt the law, but won a different legal basis. 

Instead of passing the legislation under the EU competence in the field of transport, as suggested by the Commission, the lawmakers changed it to police cooperation. The European Court of Justice annulled the law in 2014 for being adopted under a wrong legal basis and sent it back to EU institutions for revision. 

“The main or predominant aim of the directive is to improve road safety, […and] is not directly linked to the objectives of police cooperation,” ruled the court. 

EU institutions are rushing to adopt the bill with a new legal basis, as provisional rules will remain in place only by May 2015. 

The majority of parliamentarians showed clear support for the bill ahead of the vote. In a plenary debate yesterday (10 February), MEPs called for the implementation of the law as soon as possible and prosecute the offenders.  

The UK, Denmark, and Ireland were left out from the original law because they don’t participate in areas of police cooperation at the EU level. The new rule, however, will apply to all EU countries and gives the three countries a period of two years to implement the EU provisions in the national legislation.  

The Commission will assess the impact of the law on national roads and prepare a report by 2016 with further recommendations, said Bulc. Depending on the outcome, the executive branch could develop road safety guidelines, add more offences to the current ones, or suggest harmonising traffic rules, explained Commissioner Bulc.

The bill has to be approved by the Council before it officially enters into force. 

Antonio Avenoso, Executive Director of the European Transport Safety Council (ETSC) said,
“Today’s vote will help put an end to the injustice of foreign drivers escaping traffic penalties while locals get punished for the same offence. This is a long overdue change. The deterrent effect is important, knowing that you can be caught plays a key role in preventing dangerous driving.”

European Traffic Police Network (TISPOL) General Secretary Ruth Purdie commented:
“The next step will be to improve enforcement of traffic laws across the EU, starting with minimum standards for large-scale, regular and visible police enforcement actions on the three main causes of death: speeding, failure to wear a seat belt and drink driving.”

The author of the European Parliament report, S&D MEP Inés Ayala Sender, said,

“The goal is to meet the new EU target of cutting road deaths by half by 2020.  This directive provides new and more effective road-safety measures to make sure offenders are held to account. Given the technological progress in detecting certain offences - such as driving under the influence of drugs - we agreed to include four new areas in the scope of the directive. These are all areas that have now acquired sufficient maturity as offences and also pose a serious risk to the safety of the driver and other road users: driving under the influence of drugs; riding a motorcycle without a helmet; using a mobile phone whilst driving; and use of a forbidden lane."

Izaskun Bilbao Barandica MEP from the European Liberals and Democrats group in the European Parliament speaking after the vote said

"Impunity for cross border traffic offenses significantly harms road safety in Europe. Tackling this issue will help to eliminate differences in accident rates among the Member States of the Union. Europe has lower rates of road traffic deaths than many parts of the world and we need to continue work to reduce these rates"

Dominique Riquet MEP, Vice-Chair of the European Parliament's Transport Committees said,

"This is a vital step in our fight to tackle serious road crimes and traffic related deaths, wherever they occur. Cross border traffic infringements are a huge problem in all EU Member States. In France, 21% of vehicles speeding and jumping red lights are registered outside of our territory, while many of our drivers have a sense of impunity when they drive in another Member State. These rules will help strengthen the overall level of safety on our roads and put all motorists on an equal footing."

The 2011 Directive facilitating the cross-border exchange of information on road safety related traffic offences was adopted after negotiations of three years duration.

It aims to ensure a high level of protection for all road users in the Union by facilitating the cross-border exchange of information on road safety related traffic offences and thereby the enforcement of sanctions, where those offences are committed with a vehicle registered in a Member State other than the Member State where the offence took place.

The legal basis initially proposed by the European Commission was from transport policy, specifically for measures to improve transport safety. However, the Council considered police cooperation as the appropriate legal basis and in order to avoid further delay in implementing the measures, the EP agreed to adopt the Directive on the latter legal basis. As a consequence the Commission challenged the legal basis of the Directive before the Court of Justice of the EU. In its judgment of 6 May 2014 (case-43/12) the Court annulled the Directive, finding that it should have been adopted on the basis of the transport legal basis (Article 91(1) TFEU), but maintained its effects for a maximum of 12 months until the entry into force of a new Directive.

  • 6 May, 2015: deadline to change transitional rules that are currently in force 
  • Spring, 2015: Council to discuss and adopt its position on the directive 
  • July 2017: the European Commission to publish a mid-term review following an assessment on the effects of the law in all EU member states 

European Commission

  • Directive on the cross-border exchange of information on road safety related traffic offences 

European Parliament

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