Driving offences abroad

If you commit a driving offence abroad, whether civil or criminal, will the penalty follow you home?

If you commit a driving offence abroad, whether civil or criminal, will the penalty follow you home?

If you commit a driving offence abroad, whether civil or criminal, will the penalty follow you home?

The UK Denmark and Ireland initially opted out of an EU Directive introduced in November 2013 to facilitate cross-border exchange of information on road safety related traffic offences to ensure that drivers are punished for offences committed abroad.

Aimed at speeding, drink/drug driving, failure to wear seatbelts/crash helmets, red light and forbidden lane offences,  and use of mobile phone offences, directive 2011/82/EU enabled drivers to be identified and prosecuted for offences committed in a Member State other than the one where their vehicle is registered.

In 2014 the European Court of Justice annulled this directive because of an incorrect legal base (police cooperation).

A new directive (2015/413/EU) on the correct legal basis (transport safety) came into force in May 2015.

UK opt out

The UK opted out of the original directive on economic grounds arguing that the cost of the IT systems and processing penalties outweighed the income that would be received from fines recovered.

With its legal basis changed to transport safety the revised directive applies to all Member States.  The text of the revised directive gives the UK, Ireland and Denmark two years from entry into force of the directive, to adopt relevant national rules.

The AA doesn’t believe that citizens driving across borders should break or escape motoring laws.  Cross border enforcement has merit but there are big differences in the sanctions imposed on errant drivers and the way member states approach enforcement, quality of evidence and appeals. It is far from a level playing field.

Does this mean you can drive in Europe with impunity?

Even though it will be a few years until the UK participates fully in this system for pan-European electronic exchange of keeper details there are processes in place to ensure that you can still expect to be punished for traffic offences abroad.

  • The UK already has a bilateral agreement with Ireland and the Isle of Man for the exchange of registered keeper details to support enforcement activity.
  • The new directive only applies to offences where enforcement doesn't take place while the offender was in the country where the offence occurred.
    • Deposit schemes exist (effectively an on-the-spot fine) where local police can demand payment (cash/credit card) at the roadside as a deposit against a later issued fixed penalty charge or possible court prosecution.
    • In more extreme cases you can expect to have your driving licence taken away and a temporary driving ban imposed. This makes it very difficult to carry on with your holiday or sometimes even to return home.
  • If you commit an offence in a hire car your contract will almost certainly have included a clause accepting liability for any fines and authorising the hire car company to pass on your details to the authorities. (See below for more about offences in hire cars)

Civil offences

When it comes to civil offences such as parking fines or the enforcement of restricted traffic zones - the most common offence committed abroad by AA members if our mail is anything to go by - the authorities have the means of recovering fines through debt collection agencies.

These agencies operate across Europe and are appointed by the authorities in one country to act on their behalf to recover fines in another country.

If you find yourself in this situation you can expect to hear either from European Municipality Outsourcing (EMO), or from Euro Parking Collection (EPC).

We have heard of cases where the driver was contacted initially by the enforcing authority in the country where the offence was committed but chose to ignore the fine only to be contacted subsequently by one of the above agencies with a much increased penalty charge.

We would always recommend paying a fine, as long as you believe you could have committed the offence, because if you ignore it not only will the fine increase but you can expect to experience difficulties if you later try to travel back to the country in which the offence occurred.

Appeals are possible but will generally have to be made in the local language of the country where the alleged offence occurred.

Hire cars

If you commit any sort of offence in a hire car and enforcement doesn't take place at the time of the offence then the enforcing authority will initially contact the hire car company for driver details.

Your hire agreement will almost certainly include clauses accepting liability for any offences committed during the hire period and authorising the hire car company to pass on your details to the authorities.

There was probably also a clause authorising the hire company to charge any penalties to the credit card you used to secure the booking and/or to charge you an administration fee for passing on your details.

Having obtained your details from the hire car company the authority, or their agent, has 360 days to contact you.

(updated 30 July 2015)


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