An EU driving licence comes into force tomorrow - a credit card-style replacement for the more than 100 different paper and plastic licences currently in use by more than 300 million motorists across the 27 European member states.
The common-format licence for all EU drivers, with improved security protection, is part of a package of new measures proposed by Brussels and approved by EU ministers to improve free movement across borders, crack down on driving licence fraud and improve road safety across the EU.
"Traffic police across Europe are currently expected to recognise more than 100 different types of paper and plastic driving licence" said EU transport commissioner Siim Kallas on the eve of the launch.
"ID photos may be long out of date, the categories for which the driver is licensed unclear and the document may be easy to forge. Fake driving licences are a licence to kill, that is why we need licences which are easy to read, easy to understand and very difficult to falsify."
Existing licences are not affected, but will be changed to the new format at the time of renewal or at the latest by 2033.
The European driving licence, carrying standard-format information recognisable and easy to read by officials in all member states, can also be adapted to incorporate national symbols as decided by each member state.
Security features make it "tamper proof and hard to fake", the Commission says.
One advantage for drivers is less red tape when they move to live in a different EU country, thanks to a European electronic data exchange system between national administrations.
The system also makes it harder for drivers banned in one country to carry on diving undetected in another.
The International Automobile Federation (FIA) said the change was a key step towards making cross-border travel easier and the counterfeiting of driving licences harder.
FIA region director general Jacob Bangsgaard commented: "The new licence will not only make it easier to drive cross-border, it will also help to tackle the problem of drivers banned in one member state trying to get a licence in another country."
The licence change comes with the introduction of new vehicle categories, including the creation of a separate category for mopeds, and a system based on step-by-step access to more powerful bikes based on experience.
Mr Bangsgaard said: "The new categories for motorcycles with standardised minimum ages and progressive access to new categories will help protect some of the most vulnerable users of the road today. The European Commission should now turn its attention to improving the quality of training provided to road users EU-wide, with a special focus on young novice drivers."
The FIA says automatic mutual recognition of driving licences is part of the new arrangement. But non-EU countries will not necessarily recognise the document and an international driving permit (IDP) will still be needed when driving outside the EU.
Driving licence renewal times for mopeds, motorcycles and cars will be either 10 years or 15 years, at the discretion of national authorities.
The changes to driving licences have no impact on current national driving test requirements which vary widely across the member states.
However, basic examiner qualifications will be stepped up in member states where instructor requirements are currently minimal. There are currently no set standards on the training and education of driving examiners, which vary widely throughout the EU.
"In some member states examiners have almost no specific education or do not even hold the driving licence for the category they are examining", explained an FIA statement. "This will no longer be possible. Basic conditions have been set for entering the profession of driving examiners and introduce minimum standards for their initial qualification as well as regular refresher courses."