Modernising driving licence rules
The European Commission has presented proposals to modernise driving licence rules, including the introduction of a digital driving licence valid throughout the EU, and new provisions to facilitate the enforcement of traffic rules across borders. More than 20,000 lives were lost on EU roads last year and the majority of victims were pedestrians, cyclists and users of scooters and motorbikes.
According to the Commission, the new rules will improve safety for all road users, and will help the EU achieve its Vision Zero – having no deaths on EU roads by 2050. They will prepare drivers better for zero-emission vehicles and for driving on city roads, alongside more bicycles and two-wheelers, and with many pedestrians around. They will also allow young drivers to gain experience through an accompanied driving scheme - from the age of 17, young people will be able to learn to drive and obtain a licence. Those who pass at 17 will be able to drive alone from their 18th birthday, and to work as a professional driver as soon as a specific job allows. This will help address the current driver shortage.
The proposal on driving licences amends existing EU law and is inspired by best practices already in force in several Member States.
A key objective of the new rules will be improving road safety, with measures including:
A probation period of at least two years for novice drivers after passing the test, and a zero-tolerance rule on drink-driving. This is essential as even if young drivers only represent 8% of all car drivers, 2 out of 5 fatal collisions involve a driver or rider aged under 30.
Allowing young people to take their test and commence accompanied driving of cars and lorries from the age of 17, to gain driving experience.
Adapting driver training and testing to better prepare drivers for the presence of vulnerable users on the road. This will help improve safety for pedestrians, cyclists, as well as users of e-scooters and e-bikes as the EU transitions to more sustainable urban mobility.
A more targeted assessment of medical fitness, taking into account advances in medical treatment for diseases such as diabetes. Drivers will also be encouraged to update their driving skills and knowledge to keep up with technological developments.
Digital driving licence
To simplify the recognition of driving licences between Member States, the Commission proposes the introduction of a digital driving licence, in a world first. It will be much easier to replace, renew or exchange a driving licence since all procedures will be online. In the same vein, it will also be easier for citizens from non-EU countries with comparable road safety standards, to exchange their driving licence for an EU one.
Updated testing rules will take into account the transition to zero-emission vehicles. They will, for example, assess the knowledge and skills linked to advanced driving assistance systems and other automated technologies. Novice drivers will also be taught how their driving style has an impact on their emissions – the timing of gear changes, for example. Finally, the permitted mass of a ‘B' category vehicle will be adjusted for alternatively fuelled vehicles, since battery-carrying zero-emission vehicles can be heavier.
Effective cross-border enforcement
Current EU rules on cross-border enforcement have helped to ensure that non-resident road offenders do not remain anonymous. Nonetheless, in 2019 some 40% of cross-border offences were committed with impunity, either because the offender was not identified or because the payment was not enforced.
This proposal seeks to address this by allowing enforcement authorities to gain access to national driving licence registers. The Commission is also proposing to strengthen the role of established national contact points so they can better cooperate with the enforcement authorities involved in the investigation of offences. This will address current shortcomings in cooperation between Member States when investigating offences.
Furthermore, the current law covers some of the most frequent and egregious offences, such as speeding and drink-driving. The Commission proposes to expand the scope of traffic offences covered to:
Not keeping sufficient distance from the vehicle in front.
Crossing one or more solid white lines.
Not respecting rules on the use of emergency corridors.
The use of an overloaded vehicle.
These additions will help reduce impunity for such offences and improve Member States' ability to penalise offenders from other Member States, says the Commission. It will also ensure equal treatment of resident and non-resident offenders.
According to the Commission, the updated laws will ensure that the rights of people accused of traffic offences are upheld. Non-residents retain the right to an effective remedy and a fair trial, to the presumption of innocence, and to defence. These rights will be better guaranteed by provisions ensuring unified content and delivery of penalty notices, by ensuring recipients of such notices are able to verify their authenticity, and by making the sharing of information with presumed offenders a standard requirement.
End to impunity for severe offences
To prevent impunity among road traffic offenders, a new system will be put in place, allowing for an EU-wide driving disqualification when a Member State decides to disqualify a driver because of an offence committed on its territory.
Holding road traffic offenders accountable in all Member States is essential for road safety. However, under current rules, when a serious offence results in a driving disqualification, it cannot be enforced EU-wide if the driver committed the offence in a Member State other than the one that issued his/her driving licence.
The proposal covers severe road traffic offences such as excessive speeding, driving under the influence of alcohol or drugs, and causing death or serious bodily injury as a result of any traffic offence.
European Commission March 2023