January 1st 1973 saw changes within the UK, that nearly 50 years later still have ramifications; we became part of the European Economic Community. Strangely, a year after we voted ‘Leave’, the UK government were still signing up for schemes that tied us to Europe, in the form of the updated Mutual Legal Assistance scheme.
Essentially, the scheme (updated in 2017) allows foreign authorities to access driver records to pursue them for any motoring misdeeds while abroad. In total, 18 countries signed the new agreement, including France, Germany, Spain, Malta, Finland and Poland. While it covers a number of offences, the majority relates to speeding.
Mutual Legal Assistance
Forgetting the complexities, or rights and wrongs of Brexit, the system was designed to apply a more uniform structure to motoring, and the adherence of regulations throughout the European Union; whether you’re driving in Poland, or motoring through France, you still need to be mindful of the speed limits or any motoring laws that you may be breaking.
It just seems that some countries are a little more proactive when it comes to pursuing the offender.
Between February ’19 – June ’19, Finland requested the details of ownership just three times, Luxembourg were a little more proactive at 1,222 requests, Germany applied their usual Germanic efficiency with nearly 23,000 requests, but compared to France, their efforts were amateurish: 246,138 requests were made in the five-month period.
Driving in France
The high number can really only be attributed to two things – the French cameras are often unseen, or only seen at the very last minute, and the fact that their tolerances are much tighter. In the UK, we’re generally advised that the speed cameras are set at 10+2 – that’s 10% plus 2mph (which isn’t always the case), whereas in France, the trigger is set at just five percent over the limit.
In the UK, the cameras must be visible, for a distance enough to allow the driver to react, whereas in France (and a number of European countries), the camera can be set away from the road, hidden on a bridge or parked in such a manner that once you’ve noticed it, you’re too late.
Similarly, the Dutch are renowned for their ingenuity, one of their favourite hiding spots for example, is a wheelie bin by the side of the road, on bin day. You simply have no option but to comply with the limit if you don’t want to get a ticket. (And yet the Netherlands requested information just 96 times).
What will leaving Europe mean?
Currently, no one really knows whether or not the reciprocal arrangement will be active once we leave Europe, although it’s thought that as with many other motoring laws and legislation, it’s likely that it will remain in place, potentially as part of a strategy to minimise the ‘hardness’ of a hard Brexit.
But as we reported back in September 2017, despite it being called a reciprocal agreement, it isn’t very reciprocal; foreign drivers caught speeding in the UK can use a legal loophole to escape punishment, in the form of the agreement itself.
The (Euro-centric) agreement states that registered owner is responsible for all fines levied, but in the UK, it must be found that the driver is responsible, which means that a vast swathe of drivers are going unpunished, as no proof of the driver is available. Allied to that, is the fact that the UK police need to issue their NIP (Notice of Intended Prosecution) within 14-days, whereas in parts of Europe, the police can take up to a year for the same.
Personally, aside from the seemingly one-way interaction, I feel that this type of legislation can be a good thing – it gives drivers the chance to make the decision about their behaviour, their driving habits and what the possible outcomes could be. It actually encompasses the whole spirit of fairness, of doing the right thing, and allowing motorists a level playing field throughout Europe.
Despite being EU legislation, the sense of it is entirely British; you can’t get any more British than our inherent sense of fair play, and this legislation provides just that.
Have you ever been caught for a motoring offence abroad? What was the outcome? Do you feel that Brexit will mean less red tape? Let us know in the comments.