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EU moves to end impunity for dangerous drivers but some media speed to wrong conclusion

January 27th, 2017

New EU rules adopted by national ministers and the European Parliament mean people can no longer easily avoid paying fines imposed on them for driving dangerously in other EU member states than their own. This EU framework applies to all member states equally. There is no “quirk of EU law” discriminating in some way against British drivers as some UK media claim. If the UK authorities choose not to pursue non-resident offenders, that is up to them. Neither are there any “EU-imposed fines” (The Times) or “hefty EU speeding fines” (Daily Express). Each member state is in full control of its traffic rules and levels of fines or other sanctions.


The EU introduced in 2015 rules intended to ensure that drivers from one EU country cannot flout traffic rules in other EU countries – and thus endanger life and limb – with impunity. The UK requested a two-year delay and the rules will apply to it from 1 May this year, meaning Brits caught driving dangerously fast on the way to their holidays in, for example, France or Spain will be identified and no longer be able to ignore fines they receive though the post. All road users should, in the long run, be safer.

Obviously, the new rules also allow the UK to pursue people from other EU countries who misbehave on British roads.

However, the Department of Transport has, according to media reports, decided not to do so, on the grounds that UK rules make the person actually driving responsible for offences committed whereas in some other EU countries ultimate legal liability lies with the vehicle owner.

There is nothing to stop the UK using the new rules to identify the vehicle owners and sending the fines demands to them, which is what it does when UK cars are spotted speeding. Only if the owner can show he or she was not driving is the fine issued to someone else.

Very often, of course, the vehicle owner and the driver is the same person. Where that is not the case, the likelihood is that the driver is an immediate family member as most people are not in the habit of lending their cars to other people for long journeys abroad. (Many other foreign drivers are in hire cars and are identified via rental companies.)

It is true that, as the Times says, many EU Member States do make the vehicle owner liable even if someone else was driving (with the owner’s consent). However, there are EU member states, like Germany and Poland, which have similar liability rules to the UK and use the new rules for the investigation of traffic offences committed by non-residents.

So this not a “quirk of European law” as the Times says. Still less have “Brussels bosses created a one-way justice system” as the Daily Express claims. This is a decision – if confirmed – by the UK not to use new rules available to all.

We already tackled here more general issues linked to this EU initiative to protect law-abiding road users and pedestrians. The measure was voted for, as usual with EU laws, by a large majority of national Ministers (the UK abstained), as well as by the directly-elected European Parliament.

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Please note that all statements in all entries were correct on the date of publication given. However, older archived posts are not systematically updated in the light of later developments, for example changes to EU law.

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