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British drivers in Europe to escape speed camera fines (and vice versa)

The UK's departure from the EU means British drivers snared by speed cameras on roads in Europe will no longer be sent fines. And those Britons, resident in the EU, who return to the UK in foreign registered cars will also avoid fines.

British drivers in Europe to escape speed camera fines (and vice versa)
Speed cameras in France have snared tens of thousands of British drivers. AFP

As a member of the EU, Britain had signed up to a directive that allowed member states to share the contact details of those caught by speed cameras.

The directive was introduced because data revealed that a high percentage of speeding offences were committed by foreign drivers who were escaping the financial penalties.

Naturally Britain's departure from the EU on January 1st means that for the foreseeable future British holidaymakers and second-home owners driving in EU countries will not be issued fines if they are snared.

The same goes for drivers of EU-registered cars travelling on roads in the UK who are caught speeding or committing other driving offences caught on camera.

Since Britain signed up to the directive and began the data sharing in 2019, hundreds of thousands of British holidaymakers have been fined.

In France alone some 444, 378 fines were sent to British drivers in 2019 which according to French driving site Caradisiac was the equivalent of between €30 to €60 million.

With such big sums of money at stake it's no surprise some EU countries are intent on negotiating bilateral agreements with the UK to ensure contact details are shared in future.

“We will initiate bilateral negotiations with the UK, in order to reach an agreement like we have with Switzerland,” a French Interior Ministry spokesperson told Caradisiac.

But the UK is unlikely to be a in rush to enter into those talks, not least because of the ongoing pandemic that has crippled travel to and from the EU, but also because it just might not be worth it financially.

The UK avoided signing up to the cross-border directive for many years because it believed it just wasn't profitable to process the fines abroad given the relatively small number of European-based drivers caught speeding in the UK.

For certain EU countries like Spain and France where British holidaymakers and second-home owners often travel by car, it's a different matter.

British drivers who are pulled over by local police in the EU for speeding or other offences will still have to pay their fines, however.

France's ministry of interior lamented the fact that Britain was no longeIn a statement to The Local a spokesperson said: “The purpose of the directive is to put an end to the impunity of motorists who commit offences in a Member State other than that of their residence, to improve road safety throughout the EU and to guarantee the equal treatment between drivers whether or not they are residents of the Member State where the offence was committed.

Through this exchange system, Member States can identify the owners of vehicles with which the infringement has been committed in their territory and send them notifications of infringements.”
 

Reminder

The 2015 European Directive, nicknamed Cross-Border Directive does not only target drivers caught on camera speeding or running red lights.

It covers six other offences:

  • failure to wear a seat belt
  • driving while intoxicated
  • driving under drugs
  • the non-wearing of a helmet by two-wheeler drivers
  • driving on a prohibited lane
  • mobile phone use while driving

 

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BREXIT

Driving licences: How does situation for Brits in Italy compare to rest of Europe?

As UK driving licence holders in Italy still wait for answers regarding another extension or a long-awaited deal for the mutual exchange of British and Italian licences post-Brexit, we look at how the situation compares to that of their counterparts across Europe.

Driving licences: How does situation for Brits in Italy compare to rest of Europe?

When Britain left the EU at the end of 2020, the British and Italian authorities hadn’t reached a reciprocal agreement on driving licences.

However, UK licence holders living in Italy were granted a 12-month grace period in which they could continue to drive on their British licences in Italy.

READ ALSO: Q&A: Your questions answered about driving in Italy on a British licence

This was then further extended for another 12 months until the end of 2022.

The UK government announced on December 24th, 2021 that British residents of Italy who didn’t convert their UK licence to an Italian one could continue to use it until December 31st, 2022.

That’s the latest official directive from the authorities, with no decision made on what will happen from January 1st, 2023.

The question on a UK-Italy driving licence agreement rolls on. (Photo by FABIO MUZZI / AFP)

The latest extension – while providing more time – hasn’t ruled out the need to take the Italian theory and practical driving tests and the clock is ticking again with just over six months left of this grace period.

READ ALSO: How do you take your driving test in Italy?

In fact, the authorities recommend sitting the Italian driving exams whatever the outcome, just in case. The process is known to take months, so UK licence holders find themselves once again taking a gamble on waiting for an accord to be reached or taking the plunge by starting preparations for the tests.

As things stand, the latest update to the driving guidance on the British government’s ‘Living in Italy’ webpage in January states:

“If you were resident in Italy before 1 January 2022 you can use your valid UK licence until 31 December 2022,” however, “you must exchange your licence for an Italian one by 31 December 2022. You will need to take a driving test (in Italian).”

The guidance then states: “The British and Italian governments continue to negotiate long-term arrangements for exchanging driving licences without needing to take a test.”

The Local contacted the British Embassy in Rome to ask for an update on the situation, to which they responded:

“Rest assured the Embassy continues to prioritise the issue of UK driving licence validity in Italy and we continue to engage with the Italian government on this issue.”

Presently, the UK’s new ambassador to Italy, Edward Llewellyn, is touring all 20 regions of Italy and no updates on the driving licence have been given in the meantime.

Could there be a deal which sees all UK licence holders in Italy – those who registered their intent to exchange, those who didn’t, those who did register intent but haven’t been able to finalise the process, and future UK licence holders who move to Italy – able to continue using their UK licences in Italy or easily exchange them for Italian ones without having to sit a driving test?

READ ALSO: ‘Anyone can do it’: Why passing your Italian driving test isn’t as difficult as it sounds

It’s still hard to say, as the authorities continue to advise UK licence holders to sit their Italian driving test, while stating that the two governments are still working on an agreement.

The embassy’s most recent announcement was a Facebook post in April acknowledging that “many of you are concerned” about the issue.

“We continue to work at pace to reach a long-term agreement with Italy, so that residents can exchange their UK driving licences without taking a test, as Italian licence holders can in the UK,” the embassy stated.

British residents of Italy can use their driving licenses until the end of this year, the government has confirmed.

British residents of Italy can presently use their driving licences until the end of this year. Photo by PACO SERINELLI / AFP

The embassy reiterated the need for UK licence holders to consider the possibility of obtaining an Italian driving licence via a test, stating: “It is important that you currently consider all your options, which may include looking into taking a driving test now.”

READ ALSO: Getting your Italian driving licence: the language you need to pass your test

So is it true that most European nations have reached successful agreements with the UK over reciprocal driving licence recognition and exchange and the Italian deal is lagging behind?

The evidence suggests so.

UK licence exchange agreements across Europe

As things stand, Italy and Spain are the only European countries where licence exchange negotiations are ongoing.

British drivers living in Spain are becoming increasingly disgruntled at the lack of solutions, as authorities have still made no decision on exchanging driving licences or reaching a deal.

UK licence holders in Spain are currently in limbo, unable to drive until they either get a Spanish driving licence or a deal is finally reached between Spanish and UK authorities for the mutual exchange of licences post-Brexit.

Since May 1st 2022, drivers who’ve been residents in Spain for more than six months and who weren’t able to exchange their UK licences for Spanish ones cannot drive in Spain.

French and British authorities reached a licence exchange agreement in June 2021, considered a generous one for UK licence holders residing in France as those with licences issued before January 1st 2021 can continue using their UK licences in France until either the licence or the photocard nears expiry.

Sweden and the UK reached a deal even earlier in March 2021. British people resident in Sweden can exchange their UK driving licences for an equivalent Swedish one, without needing to take a test, just as they could when the country was a member of the European Union. 

In Portugal, resident UK licence holders can continue to use their valid UK licences until December 31st 2022 but they must exchange their licences for Portuguese ones before that date.

Other EU nations which have decided to allow UK licence holders residing in their countries to swap their driving licences without having to take a driving test include Austria, Belgium, Bulgaria, Croatia, Cyprus, Czech Republic, Estonia, Finland, Germany, Hungary, Iceland, Ireland, Latvia, Liechtenstein, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Malta, the Netherlands, Norway, Poland, Romania, Slovakia, Slovenia and Switzerland.   

There are slight variations in the conditions between countries, and some say you “can exchange”, others that you “must exchange” and most encourage UK licence holders to swap “as soon as possible”. In Greece, UK licences continue to be valid without any restrictions or deadlines for exchange.

That leaves Italy and Spain as the two EU/EEA countries where a deal on a straightforward exchange or long-term recognition of UK licences among residents is still hanging in the balance.  

The only question that’s left is why. 

Why are the driving rights of all Britons who resided in Italy before December 31st 2020 not part of the other protected rights they enjoy under the Withdrawal agreement? 

And why is it taking so long to reach an exchange deal?

So far, Italian and British officials have not provided answers to these questions.

The Local will continue to ask for updates regarding the use of British driving licences in Italy.

Are you a British resident in Italy affected by this issue? We’d like to hear your thoughts. Please leave a comment below this article or email the Italian news team here.

Find more information on the UK government website’s Living in Italy section.

See The Local’s latest Brexit-related news updates for UK nationals in Italy here.

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