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26th Feb 2017

EU legal wrangle may see traffic violators skip fines

  • Member states have 12 months to change an EU law on sending visiting EU citizens traffic fines (Photo: EUobserver)

People caught speeding or driving drunk in another member state may evade having to pay a fine after national authorities used the wrong legal basis to transpose an EU bill into law.

A ruling by the Luxembourg-based European Court of Justice on Tuesday (6 May) scrapped an EU directive designed to automatically allow local police to send fines to people from other member states caught committing traffic violations.

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The Court said national governments did not transpose the bill correctly.

The EU law was supposed to be based on transport but governments used police co-operation as the legal basis instead.

A EU official representing member states said national authorities had misinterpreted the legal basis of the directive.

“Member states thought that as the directive was about the exchange of information between police authorities and about sanctions, they thought police co-operation would be the correct legal basis,” noted the contact.

The Court annulled the directive but extended the law as is for another 12 months in order to give member states enough time to make the adjustments.

But people who commit traffic violations may not have to worry about receiving any fines at home if member states miss the Court’s 12-month deadline.

“In principle, it shouldn’t be a problem doing it within a year,” said the European Commission’s spokesperson for transport Helen Kearns.

The ruling concerns the EU directive on cross-border exchange of information on road safety offences.

The directive allows police to identify and investigate the owner of a vehicle registered in another member state.

Adopted near the end of 2011, the directive covers eight traffic violations.

The violations are speeding, non-use of a seat-belt, failing to stop at a red traffic light, drink-driving, driving under the influence of drugs, failing to wear a crash helmet, use of a forbidden lane, and illegally using a mobile telephone.

But opt-outs on police co-operation for UK, Ireland, and Denmark means the three countries did not have to apply the directive in the first place.

A car with Irish plates in Belgium flashed for speeding on the highway will still be fined, but the Belgian police will have to go through lengthy administrative procedures to send the ticket and have it paid.

With the Court declaring transport as the real legal basis, the three member states will no longer be exempted.

All three countries, once and if the legal basis is changed, will then be required to transpose the new EU rules into their respective national laws like the 25 other member states.

Italy and Romania were the only member states at the time of negotiations which argued in favour of making transport the legal basis in the first place.

The European Commission brought the case to the court against the Council and the European Parliament around two years ago.

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