Belgium revives plan for cross-border prosecutions
A plan to make it easier to prosecute drivers who break the rules of the road outside their home country has been revived by Belgium’s EU presidency, raising hopes that the long-disputed proposal could become law.
The cross-border enforcement directive is intended to make it easier to punish drivers guilty of the most common road-traffic offences – speeding, drink-driving, failing to wear seat belts and jumping red lights. But the law stalled in 2008, amid national government fears that it would undermine national prerogatives over criminal justice.
The European Commission has argued that EU rules are necessary because foreign drivers are more likely to be found guilty of speeding. According to the Commission, foreign drivers account for around 5% of traffic on the average road but commit 15% of speeding offences.
Electronic data exchange system
The law would create an EU electronic data-exchange system to help traffic police identify guilty drivers and send them penalty notices. However, foreign police would not be able to deduct points from driving licences.
MEPs approved the law in a first reading in 2008, but transport ministers failed to agree on which part of the EU’s rule-book the proposed law should be based.
Belgium, famous for its dense road network, hopes that changing the legal base from ‘transport’ to the ‘police co-operation’ chapter will enable it to make the breakthrough that has eluded previous presidencies. Belgian officials would like a political agreement as soon as possible and certainly before the end of the country’s presidency in December.
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The scope of the law will be limited to information exchange, with a clear statement that national road-traffic laws will not be harmonised, to soothe governments’ sensibilities about sovereignty.
Commission officials are open-minded about the legal base, because they want to get this measure on the EU’s rule-book. The four offences covered by this law cause nearly 75% of all road deaths in the EU.
Ellen Townsend of the European Transport Safety Council said the proposal became even more important when traffic police were facing budget cuts. “If we have got a new specific law on road safety, that will send a very important signal to governments and the police.” Enforcing traffic law was one of the most important ways to cut the number of deaths on the roads, she said.