The EU has been trying for some time to put a system in place to share driver details across borders, for some safety-related driving offences where enforcement doesn’t occur while the offender is still in the country.
This automated system applies to speeding, drink/drug driving, seatbelt/crash helmet, red light/forbidden lane and mobile phone offences, and the UK has until May 2017 to put in place the legislation and systems needed to support it.
We don’t think people driving across borders should break or be able to escape driving laws but enforcement is far from a level playing field. There are big differences in the sanctions imposed and the way different member states approach enforcement, quality of evidence and appeals.
The EU’s first attempt at a directive (2011/82/EU) was introduced in 2013 but the UK opted out, arguing that the cost of the IT systems and processing penalties would be more than the income it received from fines.
In 2014, the European Court of Justice annulled this directive because of an incorrect legal base (police cooperation).
In May 2015 a new directive (2015/413/EU) on the correct legal basis (transport safety) came into force and applies to all member states. The UK, along with Denmark and Ireland who also opted out of the original directive, have until May 2017 to comply – although this could now be affected by the UK’s decision to leave the EU.
What happens now?
There are already processes in place to ensure you're punished for traffic offences abroad.
- Bilateral agreements exist between the UK and Ireland and the UK and the Isle of Man for exchange of registered keeper details.
- Many countries operate ‘deposit schemes’ (effectively an on-the-spot-fine) where police can demand payment at the roadside as a deposit against a later fixed penalty charge or possible court prosecution.
- In extreme cases your driving licence can be taken away. And a temporary ban makes it difficult to carry on with your holiday or return home.
For things like parking fines or driving in restricted traffic zones – the most common offence committed abroad by AA members, if our mail is anything to go by – the authorities can use debt collection agencies to recover fines.
Operating across Europe, agencies 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’ve heard of drivers ignoring fines when contacted directly by the enforcing authority, only to be contacted later by one of these agencies with a much-increased penalty charge. If you believe you could have committed the offence you should pay the fine. If you ignore it, not only will the fine increase, but you can expect travel difficulties if you try to return to the same country. You can appeal but this usually has to be done in the local language.