June 20. 2024. 1:39

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EU Parliament backs rules to ensure foreign drivers can’t escape traffic fines

Lawmakers in the European Parliament’s transport committee voted on Wednesday (29 November) to make it easier to enforce penalties on motorists visiting from other EU countries for traffic violations – though local authorities say the measures do not go far enough.

MEPs voted on two laws, one aimed at better enforcement across borders of driving penalties, the other to ensure driving disqualifications apply across the EU.

Currently, drivers who commit offences while driving in a foreign city, such as speeding or failing to stop at a red light, often avoid paying fines to authorities outside of their member state as penalties cannot be successfully enforced.

This means that a tourist driving recklessly through the streets of Barcelona before returning to Brussels can essentially evade consequences, even if caught by police while abroad.

Around 15% of speeding offences are committed by non-resident drivers in the EU. In 2019, figures showed that of the 14.5 million traffic infractions committed by vehicles registered in another country, 6.3 million remain outstanding – some 40%.

New rules

The European Commission has proposed new measures to rectify this, ensuring that foreign drivers engaged in dangerous overtaking, wrong-way driving, and the use of an over-loaded vehicle will face penalties.

Under the transport committee position, this would be extended to include ‘hit and run’ offences, where a driver flees the scene of a collision without providing contact details.

MEPs also modified rules around the recognition of driving bans from speeding in another country.

Izaskun Bilbao Barandica, spokesperson for the liberal Renew group on the file, said the new rules will “help the authorities to remove reckless drivers who endanger their own and other people’s lives from the roads”.

“With the utmost respect for data protection rules, this is the end of impunity for people who have committed serious road traffic offences,” she added.

While road safety campaigners had pushed for penalty points to be included as part of the enforcement – points given to drivers for traffic infractions which can lead to higher insurance costs and even the loss of their driving licence – this was ultimately rejected.

Part of the reason was the lack of union-wide application, as five member states of the 27 do not have a penalty points system in place.

Not far enough

While the committee position was welcomed by conservative lawmakers, the Greens expressed disappointment with the vote.

Ciarán Cuffe, the lead lawmaker on the file for the Greens, had pushed for an expansion of the scope of the infractions covered by the law.

The Greens MEP backed amendments that would see foreign motorists prosecuted for driving in pedestrian areas, as well as limited traffic zones and for breaking low-emission zone rules.

However, these amendments were shot down during the vote, with the centre-right EPP group standing in opposition.

“It’s hypocritical to end impunity for some offences but not others, such as driving into pedestrian zones,” said Cuffe.

City network Eurocities also lamented the committee’s refusal to extend the scope of the enforcement, arguing that having foreign registered vehicles get away with breaking low-emission zone or pedestrian area rules undermines acceptance of the measures among locals.

In a letter signed by 20 city representatives sent earlier this month, local leaders urged MEPs to back measures that would see drivers from other countries subject to the same rules as locals.

Vincent Karremans, a Rotterdam vice mayor, said that the current situation, where zero emission zones can only be enforced for domestic license plates, “simply doesn’t work”.

“Without a proper exchange of information we cannot identify whether a car with a foreign license plate is legally entering a zero emission zone, let alone we can fine the perpetrator,” said Karremans.

“In parking we already see that more than half of the fines are never being paid as we have no idea who is the owner of the car,” he added.

While welcoming of some aspects, advocacy group the European Transport Safety Council (ETSC) called it “unfortunate” that urban vehicle access rules were not included in the committee position.

“There can be no justification for letting foreign-registered drivers off the hook while locals follow the rules,” said Ellen Townsend, Policy Director of ETSC.

The transport committee position will now go forward to a plenary vote, where it must win support from a majority of MEPs. After this, it will form the negotiating position of the Parliament in so-called trilogue discussions with member states.

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