EU law will help states chase foreign drivers committing offences

Drivers committing serious motoring offences in EU countries face a crackdown under plans due to be approved by ministers. New rules will permit national authorities to access one another's vehicle registrations via an electronic exchange.

EU transport ministers are expected to endorse the plan which will apply to the four traffic offences responsible for 75% of road deaths: speeding, drink-driving, ignoring red traffic lights and failure to wear a seatbelt. Using a mobile phone and using the emergency lane on motorways will also be offences covered by the EU-wide data system.

The plan covers only financial penalties – not penalty points linked to a driving licence or the confiscation of licences.

According to EU statistics, "foreign" drivers account for 5% of traffic in one EU country but rack up 15% of the speeding offences. Most go unpunished, with countries unable to chase drivers once they have returned home.

EU transport commissioner Siim Kallas said he hoped transport ministers meeting in Brussels would back the plan, adding: "A foreign driver is three times more likely to commit an offence than a resident driver.

"Many people seem to think that when they go abroad the rules no longer apply to them. My message is that they do apply and now we are going to apply them."

The commission emphasised the plan does not mean harmonising national traffic offences across Europe – some states have different speed limits and different drink-driving thresholds, for instance.

Neither does it harmonise penalties for offences, which remain up to national authorities to determine.

But, once the new proposals are in force, states where offences are committed can opt to use the networkto chase the offenders.

The laws of the country where the offence took place will apply, preventing motorists trying to get off the hook by claiming that their own national motoring laws are different.

If agreed by transport ministers, the plan will have to be approved by MEPs before becoming law. States will have two years to implement the new law.

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