The past 12 months have witnessed our nation embroiled in fierce debates around one particularly controversial topic: Brexit!
Whether you are an EU champion or desperate to get out, there may be at least one consequence of leaving that no one has considered.
The Cross Border Enforcement Directive was widely implemented in 2015; however, the UK were granted an exemption for 2 years. The new rules under the directive quietly came into effect earlier this year and the changes could see hundreds of thousands of motorists face fines for speeding in Europe. UK motorists who are caught by speed cameras abroad in countries such as France, the Netherlands and Belgium can now face fines of up to £640.
The Former Rules
Speed cameras are common throughout European countries and are responsible for zapping millions of motorists a year. Many motorists understandably did not know the rules and regulations that applied to them if caught speeding abroad and we often received enquiries about this very issue.
Due to each country having its own laws and regulations for speeding, the framework surrounding speeding tickets incurred whilst on holiday in EU countries is significantly more complicated than our own domestic policy.
European countries started working more closely together in respect of motoring offences and sharing information since around 2004 when the mutual recognition scheme was implemented. This scheme started between UK and Northern Ireland but was gradually implemented across other countries. This saw disqualifications imposed by one country be upheld in another EU country but the position with penalty points has always been a bit trickier.
Motorists mistakenly assumed for years that you can ignore the flash of a foreign speed camera to no ill-effects and, for a while, that was true. But this has all changed. Countries were having visitors break their speeding laws and escaping penalty for too long and the EU have started working together more closely to help penalties be enforced across the continent.
The foundation of enforceability derives from International Public Law and a body called the European Car and Driving Licence Information System (Eucaris). Belgium was the first country to be part of Eucaris via the Eucaris Treaty but other countries soon followed suit and by the end of 2012 all EU member states were on board and the idea was to have an “international speeding ticket”.
Eucaris is effectively a system to share information more quickly and effectively and allows bodies, such as the DVSA in the UK, to bypass public authorities, such as the police and customs, when sharing with its foreign equivalent. Once the DVSA had cooperated with the foreign body prosecuting the UK motorist there were three options available:
- Execution of foreign penal sentences; and
- The transfer of proceedings.
In the most severe cases, the motorist may be extradited to any EU member state under the Extradition Act 2003, although the crime you are charged with in the foreign court must also be a crime in the country extraditing you.
The two other options were much more realistic. The execution of a foreign penal sentence is essentially the process of the UK courts imposing a penalty determined by the country in which the offence was committed. The transfer of criminal proceedings would be done in cases where it was more convenient and appropriate and it is in the best interests of justice. There has never been any formal framework for how these options are implemented and it was all done on an ad hoc basis.
In a nutshell, all of this meant that a foreign speeding ticket on its own was not properly recognised in the UK. There have, however, always been consequences when revisiting the country in which the offence was committed.
The New Cross Border Enforcement Directive
The directive’s goal is to make enforcing penalties to offenders a more streamlined process to reduce the number of motorists committing offences to no consequence. Its primary aim is to allow foreign enforcement authorities like their own police to pursue and fine the driver or registered keeper of the vehicle.
This directive was implemented by 25 out of 28 member states of the European Union into their laws in 2015 but the UK (along with Ireland and Denmark) was granted a 2-year exemption which expired on 6th May 2017.
Which offences can be chased?
Whilst speeding offences are likely to be the most common that are dealt with under the new directive, it actually applies to all of the following as well:
- Drink Driving
- Drug Driving
- Running red lights
- Mobile phone offences
- Lane contraventions
- No seatbelt, and
- Not wearing a helmet
If you are travelling abroad and commit any of the offences above, then the foreign authorities can contact UK authorities to pursue the penalty/fine against you.
How will these offences be chased?
Each EU member state has a contact point for the system to run through. This point will allow them to have access to an exchange system with the identification of drivers. When an offence is committed, the contact point will allow prosecuting authorities from the member state to search through our information system to help them locate the offender.
The relevant prosecuting authority can then write to the registered owner of the vehicle and it must:
- Be in the language of the registered vehicles certificate;
- Contain relevant information about the offence, including the nature of the offence and the date and time of detection;
- The article of the piece of legislation infringed upon; and
- The legal consequences of the offence.
What is interesting about this is that it is holding the registered owner of the vehicle responsible but there seems to be no measures in place for instances when the registered keeper was not the driver. In at least 14 EU countries, including France, the vehicle owner is ultimately liable for fines, even if they were not driving at the time of the offence. But conversely in the UK, the responsibility lies with drivers rather than registered car owners. This means that UK police may not be able to fine drivers from the EU as they will only have the details for the registered keeper.
Can I get points on my licence from offences committed abroad?
The Department of Transport has stated that there is no transfer of penalty points to UK Driver Licences for motoring offences committed abroad. This is not a big surprise as the UK has no legal authority to endorse any licence that is not a UK one so the same should apply across the continent.
Will the fine be the same as it is in my home county?
No. The level of fine will be the same amount that a registered owner of that country would receive. This means, depending on where the offence was committed, it could be more, or less, than a fine you would receive in the UK. In some cases a speeding offence could attract fines that are much higher than what you would expect in the UK.
Travelling abroad in the future
If you ever travel abroad again, the EU have produced a guide, which can be viewed online here
and downloaded as an app to ensure that drivers can familiarise themselves with the driving laws of the 28 member states before they visit and take to the road.
It has been estimated that in half a year, half a million UK motorists will have faced prosecution for driving offences committed in France alone. Estimates also show that fines by foreign drivers cost the British Government more than £2 million a year in lost income.
The Department of Transport said: “While the UK is still a member of the EU, we are obliged to bring in rules on cross-border enforcement.
“Once we have left the EU, our Parliament will have the power to amend the law.”
If you’re a regular driver abroad, would this impact your stance on Brexit? If the answer is yes, then we should probably warn you that even if the UK did change the laws it would likely not be in a way that would upset our European neighbours further…
Author Neil Sargeant is a Road Traffic specialist within the Duncan Lewis Crime Department, based in Harrow. He has specialised in Road Traffic Law since 2008, establishing close working relationships with some of the country’s leading experts in this field and maintaining an outstanding record of client acquittals. His specialist expertise stretch across road traffic law, but are most extensive in:
Duncan Lewis Road Traffic Solicitors
- Drink Driving (with breath, blood or urine samples);
- Drug Driving;
- Failing to provide a specimen for analysis whether this be breath, blood or urine;
- Being drunk in charge of a vehicle;
- Any type of road traffic case that involves a procedure conducted at hospital;
- Dangerous & Careless driving; and
- Cases involving a fatality.
Duncan Lewis Solicitors are specialists in road traffic law, with particular expertise in drug and alcohol-related motoring offences. We can provide free and comprehensive legal advice on any motoring prosecution, regardless of the allegations.
It is crucial that you seek legal advice immediately, as an early opinion in your case can make a significant difference to the end result. Duncan Lewis Solicitors can be on hand to deal with whatever motoring law issue you may have.
For specialist advice please call our Road Traffic specialist Neil Sargeant on 02031141145 or email him on email@example.com.