One driving licence agreed for all the EU
The European Parliament has cleared the way for a new law harmonising EU driving licenses across the European Union, but the new license will not be obligatory until 2033.
European lawmakers meeting in Strasbourg voted overwhelmingly in favour of a common EU driving license on Thursday (14 December) that will replace the bloc's current 110 driving licenses held by almost 200 million people - which range in shape, size, the length of time they are granted for and the ease with which they can be counterfeited.
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However, the law will only come into practice in 2013 – when newly-issued driving licenses must be of the new credit-card-like permit – while the deadline for the replacement of all old driving licenses will not be for another 26 years in 2033.
"It took a very long time to bring about the European driving license," said Belgian centre-right MEP Mathieu Grosch who wrote the parliament report on the issue, and he hoped "existing driving licenses will be replaced a lot sooner than the maximum transition of twenty years."
Mr Grosch explained that Germany, Austria and many of the new member states had been against a shorter transition period.
"The Germans are proud of their little grey paper driving license," he explained to journalists in Strasbourg. "For them it's like giving up your soul."
He added many of the new member states had been reluctant about the new EU licence because they had just recently spent the time and money on new licences.
Driving license tourism
The new directive means also that an EU citizen who has had their card taken from them either for drink driving, other offences or for health reasons, cannot cross the border and then get a new one in another member state – which happens in Europe today.
"This means that we will have a higher road safety in the EU and we will easier know whether all drivers have the right driving license," said Swedish socialist MEP Ewa Hedkvist Petersen in a statement.
"The problem of driving license tourism…will disappear," she added.
Furthermore, young motor cycle drivers will be required to get experience on less powerful bikes before moving on to bigger motor bikes in a so-called step-by-step approach of practical experience.
"Motorcycles are the only category of road users where the number of fatal accidents rises every year," said Mr Grosch, explaining that "drivers who are younger than 24 are required to gain two years of experience on smaller motorcycles before moving on to more powerful machines."
Chip is optional
The new license will contain anti-falsification measures but it has been left up to member states to decide whether to insert a microchip containing the holder's driving record.
Mr Grosch esplained that the UK had mentioned the chip could contain information about the driver, as UK citizens have no ID card, while the Nordic countries suggested it could be used for paying road taxes.
Also under the new law, governments will no longer be able to hand out drivers licenses for life – as in the case of Germany, Austria, France and Belgium.
It will be valid for ten years only, with member states having the option of extending it up to 15 years. Licences for trucks and buses will only have a five-year shelf-life. The time limits are to help cut down on fraud.
It is also left up to member states whether they want to introduce regular medical tests for elderly drivers.
Commenting on the fact that most of us will not see this new driving license for some time to come, Ms Hedkvist Petersen said she believes and hopes that most of the member states will go through the transition period much faster than required. "Nobody wants to be the last."