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Road safety: Clamp-down on traffic offences committed abroad – FAQ

Brussels, 7 November 2013

Over the past 20 years, more and more vehicles have been crossing borders and the number of non-resident drivers committing road traffic offences has increased. However, it has often been impossible for them to be identified and punished due to the lack of appropriate cooperation instruments between enforcement organisations. Apart from giving rise to discrimination between EU citizens, which reduces the acceptance of enforcement measures, this also directly reduced the actual and perceived effectiveness of the measures. Therefore, the EU adopted the Cross-Border Enforcement Directive, which Member States had to transpose by today.

What does cross-border enforcement mean?
Cross-border enforcement refers to the pursuit and punishment of traffic offences committed with a car that is registered in a Member State other than the one where the offence is committed.

How serious are the problems caused by non-resident drivers?
- Non-resident drivers account for 5% of the road traffic in the EU, but around 15% of speeding offences.
- A driver of a car registered abroad is three times more likely to commit offences than a resident driver.
- In countries like France, where transit and tourism are high, speeding offences committed by non-residents can reach 25% of the total number of offences and go up to 40–50% during very busy periods of the year.
- This means that cross-border enforcement is of particular interest for countries such as Austria, Belgium, Luxembourg, France, Germany, Hungary, Italy, Poland and Spain.

How does the Directive address this situation?
The main objective of the Directive is to improve road safety by offering a tool for enforcement authorities in the Member State where the offence was committed to pursue the drivers of vehicles registered in other EU Member States when they commit traffic offences. The Directive ensures equal treatment of foreign and resident drivers by reducing the impunity of foreign drivers which currently creates a feeling of unfairness and has a negative impact on the public acceptance of enforcement.

The Directive gives Member States' authorities access to each other's vehicle registration data via an electronic data exchange network to be put in place  in order to identify EU drivers. This will allow for the exchange of the necessary data between the Member State in which the offence was committed and the Member State in which the vehicle is registered. Once the vehicle owner's name and address are known, a letter may be sent to the presumed offender, on the basis of a model established by the Directive. However, it is for the Member State of offence to decide on the follow-up and punishment of the traffic offence.

Which traffic offences are covered?
Eight major road safety related offences are included in the Directive:

  • Speeding,
  • Not using a seatbelt,
  • Not stopping at a red traffic light or other mandatory stop signal,
  • Drink driving,
  • Driving under the influence of drugs,
  • Not wearing a safety helmet (for motorcyclists),
  • Using a forbidden lane (such as the forbidden use of an emergency lane, a lane reserved for  public transport, or a lane closed down for road works),
  • Illegally using a mobile phone, or any other communications device, while driving.

Does the Directive harmonise traffic sanctions across the EU?
No. The national rules in the Member State in which the offence was committed, including multilateral or bilateral agreements and conventions (e.g. Convention on Mutual Assistance in Criminal Matters between the Member States of the European Union), will continue to apply regarding both the exact definition of the offence and sanctions.

The level of applicable sanctions is laid down in national law and is the same as for drivers of cars registered in the Member State where the offence is committed.

How does the Directive enable authorities to track down offenders from abroad?
Each of the EU Member States covered by the Cross-Border Enforcement Directive (all except for Denmark, the UK and Ireland – see below) has to designate a national contact point to exchange information for the identification of drivers committing one of the offences described above. Upon detecting an offence, the contact point in that Member State performs a search through the information exchange system, using the full licence plate number of the vehicle concerned. Once they have decided whether to follow up on the traffic offence, the authorities in the Member State of offence send an information letter to the holder/owner of the registration certificate. This information letter has to be written in the same language as the registration certificate in the Member State of registration and it must include information about the traffic offence – the nature of the offence, the date and time of detection, the article of the relevant piece of legislation infringed – and the legal consequences of the offence.

For example: a car registered in Latvia is recorded as not having stopped at a red traffic light in Belgium. This information is transmitted to the national contact point in Belgium who, using the licence plate number, sends a request for the address of the holder of the car to the Latvian database. Based on the results of the search, the Belgian contact point can choose to follow up the offence by informing the holder of the Latvian registration certificate of the offence committed and its legal consequences under Belgian law. This information is provided in Latvian and sent to the address included in the vehicle registration data.

What will happen if the offender is not the holder of the recorded car?
The information letter is sent to the holder of the vehicle recorded as having been involved in an offence. A reply form is enclosed with this communication, which gives the recipient the opportunity to identify the driver of the vehicle, in cases where the holder/owner was not driving at the time of the offence. The information letter should also include details related to sanctions (e.g. how to pay fines). This could include the bank details required to make an international money transfer.

What will happen if the recipient ignores the request?
Council Framework Decision 2005/214/JHA on the application of the principle of mutual recognition of financial penalties also covers road traffic offences. The Decision provides that a final conviction to pay a fine by one Member State is recognised by the other Member States.

Where can drivers find information about the traffic rules in other Member States?
The European Commission website "Going Abroad" provides structured information on traffic rules relating to the eight offences covered by the Cross-Border Enforcement Directive: http://ec.europa.eu/transport/road_safety/going_abroad/index_en.htm .

The information has been provided by Member States according to Article 8 of the Directive and is to be made available in all EU official languages.
The European Commission is also developing a smartphone application to make the information easily accessible during a journey abroad.

Additionally, TISPOL, the European traffic police network, has published a series of country driving guides, providing information about national traffic laws: www.tispol.org

Are all the 28 Member States of the EU obliged to transpose the Cross-Border Enforcement Directive?
The Directive is based on Article 87(2) of the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union, which covers the area of cooperation and exchange of information between EU Member States in police and judicial matters. However, a number of protocols are annexed to the Treaty. According to Protocol 22, Denmark has opted out of being covered by any legislation adopted under Title V of the Treaty (Area of Freedom, Security and Justice), and consequently is not bound by the Cross-Border Enforcement Directive or subject to its application. According to the Danish Constitution, a referendum would need to be held in order for the country to opt in to the provisions of Title V of the Treaty (Denmark would require an international agreement to be concluded for that purpose between Denmark and the Union). Such a referendum may take place as early as May 2014.
According to Protocol 21 of the Treaty, Ireland and the UK have opted out of being covered by any legislation adopted under Title V of the Treaty (Area of Freedom, Security and Justice), and consequently are not bound by the Directive or subject to its application. However, any of the two Member States can decide to opt in to Title V of the Treaty by notifying the other Member States and the Commission of their decision.

On 27 January 2012, the Commission took the Council and the European Parliament to the Court of Justice, in order to ensure that the Cross-Border Enforcement Directive uses transport and not police cooperation as a legal basis (Case C-43/12 Commission v European Parliament and Council). Does this have any impact on the transposition of the Cross-Border Enforcement Directive?
No. The Commission requested the Court of Justice to declare Directive 2011/82/EU void because it considers the legal basis to be incorrect. However, there is no disagreement between the institutions on the content of the Directive.
The Commission requested the Court of Justice to maintain the effects of the Directive according to Article 264 of the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union pending adoption of a new proposal for the Directive with the modified legal basis. This means that Member States are in any case obliged to transpose the Directive into their national law by today, with the exception of Denmark, Ireland and the United Kingdom.