EU to roll out EU-wide driving bans as it seeks to reduce road deaths

At the beginning of March 2023, EU Transport Commissioner Adina Vălean flourished her driver’s licence in front of a camera and told the watching audience that “one of the directives adopted today will make this small piece of plastic history”.

The EU is pressing ahead on several road safety fronts, most notably by increasing cross-border co-operation to ensure that if a driver is banned for dangerous driving in one country, it applies across the EU. 

Moving to a digital licence system is a key step along the way and it’s a move that’s been expected for some time – Austria, Brazil, Denmark, Iceland, Mexico and South Korea have already introduced them, as have some US states.

This digital transition will help to make roads safer – as Vălean’s reform package also contained proposals to “strengthen enforcement and reduce impunity” for safety-related road traffic offences. 

The focus on an EU-wide approach is easy to understand when you consider that the latest available detailed statistics show that out of 14.5 million traffic offences committed with a vehicle registered in another EU country by a driver who wasn’t identified on the spot, within the EU during 2019, only 8.2 million penalties were paid. 

Of those, 8 million of the payments were voluntary. A mere 200,000 followed successful enforcement action. 

Vălean, a Romanian politician, admitted: “This gives the impression that while you’re abroad, you can do whatever, because you’re not going to be caught.”

A ‘no brainer’ for road safety

One hurdle still to be overcome is that there are significant differences between member states on the thresholds that lead to driving disqualifications. 

This proposal for a new directive covers those road traffic offences that contribute frequently to road crashes and fatalities: excessive speeding and driving under the influence of alcohol or drugs. They also cover causing death or serious bodily injury as a result of any traffic offence.

The proposal extends to the disqualification of driving licences. Vălean said: “If somebody drives so dangerously that an EU Member State deems it appropriate to remove their driving licence, that person should not be allowed to drive in any other EU country.” 

She said: “Those who drive dangerously must not be able to get away with it.”

Vălean described it as a “no-brainer in terms of road safety” to redress the situation. 

Renewed focus on risk-factors

The EU has a target to halve road fatalities and serious injuries in the period between 2020 and 2030, and get close to zero road deaths by 2050 – after missing a previous target to halve road deaths between 2010 and 2020.

Progress toward these targets has been slow, hence the new measures. The number of EU road fatalities fell from 51,400 in 2001 to 18,800 in 2020 (the year of Covid lockdowns), however, according to preliminary data published by the EU, more than 20,000 people lost their lives on EU roads in 2022, the majority of victims being pedestrians, cyclists and users of scooters and motorbikes.

To improve this situation, the Commission also proposes to expand the scope of traffic offences covered to:

  • not keeping sufficient distance from the vehicle in front;

  • dangerous overtaking;

  • dangerous parking;

  • crossing one or more solid white lines;

  • wrong-way driving;

  • not respecting rules on the use of emergency corridors;

  • the use of an overloaded vehicle.

There are also plans to lower the minimum driving age to 17 across the EU. These new drivers would have a probationary period of two years in which there would be zero tolerance for alcohol and they should always be accompanied by another driver. 

“We propose that driving tests focus more on risk factors and hazard perception, for example, linked to other road users and new forms of mobility,” said Vălean.

She added that experienced drivers will also be “encouraged to adapt their driving skills to advanced vehicle technologies and to drive in a way that minimises emissions, for example, by reducing speed and changing gears earlier.”

Good news for businesses

Progress is unlikely to follow at motorway speeds. The changes will require member states to align on limits for speeding, drunk and drug driving, dangerous driving and so on. 

Individual countries will also need to allow all driving licence data to be shared centrally on a main European database.

However, if the bureaucratic hurdles can be overcome, this would seem to be a big step in the right direction for road safety – fewer dangerous drivers on the roads, more awareness of vulnerable road users, more safeguards for younger drivers and encouragement for better driving behaviours.

Businesses should also be able to relax a little with the knowledge that they aren’t reliant on drivers who are hiding serious driving offences behind a barrier of red tape.


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