British motorists caught speeding in their own vehicles on the Continent could have fines sent to their home addresses and be pursued in UK courts, under new plans to let European Union states access our motoring records for the first time.
Currently, British motorists who commit driving offences in other EU countries can be fined only if stopped by a police officer at the roadside. Those whose offences in their own vehicles are caught on camera tend to escape without punishment, while drivers of hire cars are often traced through their rental companies.
But this week the European Parliament will vote on a range of measures that will give national police forces the power to send out fines across Europe – and pursue offenders through the courts of their home countries.
Under the new rules, which are expected to be backed by the vast majority of MEPs including UK Conservatives, tickets for speeding, ignoring a red light, drink and drug driving and driving while using a mobile phone will be enforced across the EU.
If a driver commits an offence in another country, that state may use their car’s registration number to access their personal data to send out a letter in the driver’s own language, demanding payment and threatening court action if they do not pay the fine.
The new Bill will be the first time that all 28 EU countries take part in cross-border information exchanges. Under the law, British police will also be able to pursue foreign motorists for traffic and speeding fines if they have left the UK.
An earlier law, which Britain had opted out of, was struck down by the European Court of Justice on an administrative technicality. However, the new directive, which was proposed by the European Commission in May, does not allow for Britain to use its opt-out.
Ines Ayala Sender, a Spanish MEP and the EU Parliament’s negotiator on the issue, said: “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.
“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.”
If approved, the Bill will apply to member states from May. However, the UK has been granted two additional years to introduce legislation and for the DVLA to work to update its computer systems.
The move was welcomed by road safety campaigners. Ed Morrow, campaigns officer at Brake, said: “For a driver who puts lives at risk to escape prosecution because their vehicle is registered in another country is both insulting and incomprehensible for victims. Illegal driving crosses borders, so enforcement must cross borders too.”
However, Edmund King, the AA president, said: “In theory, tracking down drivers who break the law driving in other countries might sound like a good idea in terms of road safety but in practice it could be a nightmare.
“Different European countries have significantly different motoring laws and indeed penalties. If UK drivers receive a penalty notice for using a ‘restricted lane’ in Spain they may wish to contest it but this would prove impossible in most cases as often photographic evidence is not provided. Returning to Europe for a court case is prohibitive in terms of cost.”
The Department for Transport said: “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. 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.”