Members' Research Service By / August 11, 2017

Driving safely in Europe [What is Europe doing for its citizens?]

Written by Sarah Sheil with Amalie Bjornavold, European roads are the safest in the world, and the introduction of the…

© vege / Fotolia

Written by Sarah Sheil with Amalie Bjornavold,

© vege / Fotolia

European roads are the safest in the world, and the introduction of the new harmonised European driving licence is helping to consolidate this trend. In addition to ensuring freedom of movement for the EU’s 300 million drivers – given that the new licences are recognised throughout Europe – they also reinforce their security and safety. The introduction of minimum requirements to obtain and keep a licence contributes to keeping unsafe drivers off the road. And thanks to the standardised credit-card style format, the risk of counterfeiting has been significantly reduced.

Standardisation of European driving licences

In January 2013, the new European driving licence was introduced, thanks to the adoption of the EU Driving Licence Directive (2006/126/EC) and its transposition by Member States in 2011. The 170 different formats of driving licences previously used are gradually being replaced with the harmonised licence. Given that a driving licence can in some cases also be used as an identification document, the new credit-card style licence includes a microchip equipped with anti-fraud technology. Communication between national authorities has improved through regular consultation within the RESPER network, where national authorities can exchange information and gain a better overview of individuals whose licences have been withdrawn, suspended or restricted. In turn, authorities can better detect driving licence falsification. Directive 2015/413 also facilitates the cross-border exchange of information on road safety-related traffic offences.

On the road to safer travel

Along with related measures, the standardisation of driving licences will positively affect road safety in Europe. Even though the number of deaths on European roads has drastically decreased – by 43 % between 2001 and 2010, and a further 19 % from 2010 onwards – there were still 25 500 road deaths in 2016 and 135 000 injuries. A 2011 European Commission transport white paper set the goal of zero victims of road accidents by 2050 and fatalities halved by 2020. The new driving licence rules enhance the safety of drivers, as they better protect vulnerable users. This is particularly the case for young motorcycle riders, whose access to motorbikes and powered two-wheelers will depend on their experience with less powerful machines, such as mopeds. Moreover, unless an individual’s driving licence was issued before 2013, both motorcyclists and car drivers will need to renew it every 10 or 15 years, depending on the Member State in which it was issued. Drivers of buses and lorries will hold licences valid for up to five years, and will need to undergo a medical examination to renew it.

EU action on road safety

The EU faces significant challenges in improving road safety, from ageing populations to the surge in the use of potentially distracting electronic devices on the road, but it also has opportunities through possibilities offered by new technologies such as self-driving systems. To monitor progress, the European Road Safety Observatory (ERSO) was set up to coordinate all EU activities in the fields of road accident and injury data collection. Within the EU, road safety is a shared competence, which means that the enforcement of traffic rules and education for road users are largely dealt with by Member States. EU intervention mostly focuses on the safety of road networks, training of professional drivers, the technical condition of vehicles, transport of dangerous goods, and harmonisation of vehicles in areas such as use of seat belts and speed limitation devices. In reaching the goal of zero road accidents by 2050, further action is still needed, though, through a combination of actions at local, national and EU level.

This note has been prepared by EPRS for the European Parliament’s Open Days in May 2017.

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