Drivers will be punished for traffic offences they commit abroad, including the four "big killers" causing 75 per cent of road fatalities - speeding, breaking traffic lights, failure to use seatbelts, and drink driving - following a vote in the European Parliament on Wednesday.
European Commission vice president Siim Kallas, responsible for transport, said: "The four big killers that include speeding and drunk driving are still responsible for thousands of needless deaths on Europe's roads, and each death shatters a family's life. We know that a foreign driver is three times more likely to commit an offence than a resident driver. These new rules should have a powerful deterrent effect and change behaviour. Many people still seem to think that when they go abroad the rules no longer apply to them. My message is that they do apply and now we are going to apply them."
EU figures suggest that foreign drivers account for five per cent of traffic but 15 per cent of speeding offences. Most go unpunished, with countries unable to pursue drivers once they return home.
The proposal for a directive on cross border enforcement for road safety aims to remedy that situation. Ministers have reached an agreement on a text that targets traffic offences with a critical impact on road safety, including the four "big killers": Speeding, failing to stop at traffic lights, failing to wear seatbelts, and drink driving. Other offences include: Driving under influence of drugs, failing to wear safety helmets, illegal use of an emergency lane, and illegal use of mobile phone while driving.
The proposals would enable EU drivers to be identified and thus prosecuted for offences committed in a member state other than the one where their vehicle is registered. In practical terms, the new rules would allow for an electronic data exchange network to be put in place to allow for the exchange of the necessary data between the country in which the offence was committed and the country in which the vehicle is registered. Once the owner's name and address are known, a letter of information, for which a model is established by the proposed directive, will be sent to him/her.
It will be for the member state of offence (where the offence was committed) to decide on the follow-up for the traffic offence. The directive does not harmonise either the nature of the offence or the penalties for the offence. So it is the national rules in the member state of offence, according to national law, which will continue to apply regarding both the nature of the offence and penalties.
The legislative proposals need final approval by member state governments before becoming law - this should happen in the coming weeks. There is then a two-year period for member states to transpose EU legislation before it comes into force, possibly by 2013.