MEPs take small step against cross-border driving offences

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The European Parliament yesterday (6 July) took a first step towards putting an end to the impunity of drivers who commit traffic offences in another EU country. However, the first 'cross-border fines' are not expected to start hitting offenders' mailboxes for another two years.

Drivers will be punished for traffic offences they commit abroad, including the four 'big killers' that cause 75% of road fatalities – speeding, jumping traffic lights, failing to use seatbelts and drink driving – following a vote in the European Parliament on Wednesday.

Less serious offences, commanding fines lower than 70 euros – such as most parking infractions – are to be exempted.

The proposals would enable EU drivers to be identified and thus prosecuted for offences committed in an EU other than that in which their vehicle is registered. In practical terms, the new rules allow for an electronic exchange to be put in place to facilitate the exchange of data between the country in which the offence was committed and the country in which the vehicle is registered.

Once the owner's name and address are known, a letter of information, for which a model is established by the proposed directive, will be sent to the offender.

It is up to the EU country where the offence has been committed to decide whether to follow up the offence. The directive does not harmonise the nature of the offences nor the penalties. It remains unclear what would happen if an offender were to ignore their letter.

European Commission Vice-President Siim Kallas, responsible for transport, said: "We know that a foreign driver is three times more likely to commit an offence than a resident driver. These new rules should have a powerful deterrent effect and change behaviour. Many people still seem to think that when they go abroad the rules no longer apply to them. My message is that they do apply and now we are going to apply them."

EU figures suggest that foreign drivers account for 5% of traffic but around 15% of speeding offences. Most go unpunished, with countries unable to pursue drivers once they have returned home.

The legislative proposals need final approval by the governments of EU countries before becoming law, which could happen in the coming weeks. Then member states will have a two-year period to transpose EU legislation into national law before it comes into force, possibly by 2013.

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