The EU aims to halve traffic deaths by 2030, but the trend is moving in the wrong direction — prompting the European Commission this week to present plans to revamp driver permit rules and to ensure bad drivers face bloc-wide sanctions.
“The improvement in road safety has not been as strong as needed,” said the Commission proposal for a directive on driving licenses.
The package includes plans to introduce a digital driving license recognized in all member countries, rules for new drivers, and also aims to ensure penalties are enforced across the bloc — including a new proposal to get drivers disqualified everywhere in the EU if they commit a serious road offense outside their home country.
Out of 14.5 million traffic offenses committed in 2019 with a vehicle registered in another EU country by a driver who wasn’t identified on the spot, just 8.2 million penalties were paid — meaning about 40 percent of offenses went unpunished.
“This gives the impression that while you’re abroad, you can do whatever, because you’re not going to be caught,” said Transport Commmissioner Adina Vălean.
The EU has a target to halve road fatalities and serious injuries 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. But while EU roads are some of the safest in the world, progress toward those targets has been slow.
The number of road fatalities fell from 51,400 in 2001 to 18,800 in 2020, but that year was unique thanks to sweeping pandemic lockdowns. As cars and pedestrians return to the roads, deaths are creeping back up. According to preliminary data the Commission published last week, 20,600 people lost their lives on EU roads in 2022.
Getting deaths to continue falling will mean rethinking how new drivers are licensed and how dangerous drivers are punished.
Under the Commission’s proposal, the minimum age for taking a driving test will be lowered to 17, but new drivers won’t be allowed to drive alone until they’re 18. That would also apply to truck permits — an attempt to lure young people into the profession to remedy Europe’s growing driver shortage.
At the same time, the executive wants to change driving permit rules to put greater focus on vulnerable road users and new forms of mobility such as e-scooters and impose zero tolerance for alcohol on new drivers for at least two years.
The Commission also wants to “make the small piece of plastic history” by introducing an EU-wide digital driving license that drivers could keep on their phones or another digital device, Vălean said. Drivers will still be able to get a physical version.
The Commission also proposed a new system that would pull the licenses of drivers committing serious infractions in other EU countries.
That comes on top of a separate update, aimed at improving the exchange of information about traffic offenses between countries to help authorities track down offenders.
The new system would apply to drivers committing a severe offense, such as driving under the influence of drugs or alcohol, causing death or serious injury, or excessive speeding — defined as driving 50 kilometers per hour above the speed limit.
There will be an obligation to notify the license-issuing country of the breach, which would have to make sure it applies across the bloc.
“If somebody drives so dangerously that an EU member state deems it appropriate to remove their driving license, that person should not be allowed to drive in any other EU country,” Vălean said. “This is a no-brainer in terms of safety.”
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