19 January 2013 will see the introduction of a European driving licence as part of the entry into force of the third EU Driving Licence Directive. The new rules will guarantee a true freedom of movement to EU drivers, reinforce safety on European roads and reduce possibilities of fraud.
1. What are the benefits of a new driving licence system in Europe?
About 60% of the Union’s population holds a valid driving licence, around 300 million citizens. A great number of these Europeans make cross-border trips within the Union for private or professional purposes or change country of residence. Today, Europe has more than 110 different driving licence models with different entitlements and validity periods. The new European driving licence will simplify this patchwork and facilitate the mobility of drivers across Europe. Harmonised validity periods and medical examination rules will give more legal certainty for many Europeans who move to another Member State.
A driving licence not only gives access to all kinds of vehicles in many EU countries it can also be used as an identification document. Therefore, anti-fraud protection is a major cause for concern. The new licence is almost impossible to falsify. It is backed up by a European electronic data exchange system, which will facilitate the management of driving licences by administrations and contribute to better detection of driving licence fraud.
Driving licence rules also have a great impact on road safety. With more than 30.000 deaths on European roads each year, the new driving licence rules will help to enhance safety on European roads. The changes for motorcycles are the most important. By introducing gradual access to motorcycles for young drivers the new European rules will much better protect this vulnerable group of road users. Furthermore, for car drivers and motorcyclists, the new document must be renewed every 10 to 15 years depending on the Member State while licences for bus and lorry drivers will be valid for five years and a medical check-up will be necessary for renewal. These rules will not affect a right to drive a vehicle that was acquired beforehand.
2. What are the main changes introduced by the new legislation on driving licences?
A new European driving licence card
To limit the number of different licence models that are in circulation, and to better protect against fraud, the paper driving licence model shall be phased-out. The only European driving licence model to be issued shall be a plastic ‘credit’ card type, already used in most EU countries, which allows for greater protection against forgery. Current paper driving licences will stop being issued from the entry into force of the new legislation.
Introduction of a compulsory administrative renewal for all new licences
A mandatory and regular administrative renewal of driving licences will ensure that all documents in circulation can be updated using the most up-to-date security features. Reducing the number of licence models will ease enforcement, and so will the greater likeness of the holder of the photo on the licence.
All new licences for mopeds, motorcycles, cars, tricycles and quadricycles shall have a maximum administrative validity of 10 years. However Member States may choose to issue such licences with an administrative validity of up to 15 years.
All new driving licences for trucks and buses shall have a maximum administrative validity of 5 years.
Drivers with licences issued before the entry into force of this Directive will be subject to the new rules on validity at the latest by 19 January 2033.
3. How will the new legislation on driving licences affect drivers?
With this new compulsory regular renewal of the driving licence document, the last remaining obstacles to the free movement of drivers are abolished. The main principle will be that all licences issued as of the date of application of the new Directive will remain valid as stipulated on the driving licence. Before expiry, the holder will have to renew the driving licence in the country where he is having his normal residence. From that date, the host Member State will apply the new administrative validity period and is allowed to impose a medical check if this is foreseen for its own citizens. These provisions will finally provide the necessary legal security for the holder of a driving licence.
With regard to the driving licences issued before the date of application of the current Directive and which are still valid and in circulation, all these driving licences will have to be replaced by a new driving licence at the latest by 2033. A Member State may also request that, as from two years after taking up residence in its country, the holder of a driving licence issued by another Member State without the validity periods prescribed by the Directive (e.g. indefinite validity period) renew his/her licence.
At the same time, the right to drive a certain type of vehicle will clearly be established by the new driving licence and thus easy to recognise by the holder, the administrative authorities and the enforcement authorities.
The Commission also proposes to clarify national rules governing medical examinations by:
for drivers of trucks and buses, harmonising the periodicity of these checks, which have to be carried out at each renewal of the driving licence in accordance with the system in place in each country;
for drivers of cars and riders of motorcycles, Member States will be left free to carry out regular examinations or not.
4. How will the new legislation on driving licences reduce possibilities of fraud?
Today, several types of fraud exist. They range from trafficking the document itself, obtaining duplicates unlawfully by suggesting theft or loss of the original licence, to obtaining a driving licence in a different country while being banned from driving in the home country.
The basic philosophy that underlies the fight against driving licence fraud is the principle that one person can only hold one driving licence. This principle has been reinforced by this Directive.
The regular renewal of driving licences will allow Member States to have a regularly updated national database and thus a constantly updated knowledge of the valid driving licences which are in circulation.
At the same time, the communication between the national authorities will be improved by creating a communication network for driving licences between them. The regular consultation of this network, named RESPER, will allow applying the new and stricter rules on the prohibition to issue a licence to someone whose licence has been withdrawn, suspended or restricted.
Furthermore, Member States are allowed, if they so wish, to insert a microchip in the licence. The repetition of the information printed on the card in the microchip increases the anti-fraud protection and at the same time ensures protection of the data. Of course, European legislation on the protection of personal data will have to be respected.
5. How will the new legislation on driving licences contribute to improved road safety?
Introduction of a new driving licence category for mopeds
No licence was needed to drive mopeds in the Union. However, accident figures show a high risk of accidents of very young road users. In some Member States very young riders, as young as 14, are allowed to ride mopeds.
Therefore, a new harmonised licence category AM has been introduced, which can be obtained after passing a mandatory theory test. This should allow to better control this vulnerable group of road users and make them more aware of traffic rules. It will also clarify the situation regarding moped riders crossing borders or renting a moped when on holiday. Moreover Member States may require applicants to pass a test of skills and behaviour for this category.
Introduction of a power/weight criterion for light motorcycles (licence category A1)
Light motorcycles were limited to 125 cc and 11 kW. No power to weight ratio was imposed. This could lead to ever lighter vehicles, thus achieving steadily increasing acceleration and top speed possibilities. Therefore licence holders of category A1 are only allowed to drive light motorcycles with a cylinder capacity not exceeding 125 cubic centimetres, of a power not exceeding 11 kW and with a power/weight ratio not exceeding 0.1 kW/kg. All Member States have to introduce this category of licences which did not exist in all Member States.
Progressive access to the most powerful motorcycles
Previous legislation allowed many young riders without practical experience to ride the most powerful class of motorcycles. Accident statistics prove that the accident risk of novice riders of heavy motorcycles is particularly high under 24 years of age. It is moreover impossible to control whether any experience has effectively been acquired on a limited motorcycle. In the interest of road safety, new vehicle, minimum age and access criteria have been introduced.
A new category A2 with new technical characteristics
The previous category A, which was split into a limited and an unlimited part, is now split into two distinct categories “A2” and “A”. An additional technical requirement to avoid “downtuning” of motorcycles is introduced for category A2.
New minimum ages and access rules
For category A2, the minimum age is fixed at 18 years. If a Member State fixes the minimum age for category A1 at 17 or 18 years, the minimum age for category A2 will be 19 and 20 years because there must be 2 years between the minimum age for category A1 and the minimum age for category A2.
If the applicant has acquired an experience of 2 years on a motorcycle in category A1, he has to pass a test of skills and behaviour only, or to complete a training.
For category A:
for progressive access applicants have to have acquired a two year experience on a motorcycle of category A2 and pass a test of skills and behaviour only, or to complete a training. If these two conditions are met, he will be entitled to drive vehicles of category A from the age of 20 (or possibly 21 or 22, depending on the minimum age for A2).
for direct access the minimum age limit has been raised from the previous 21 years to 24 years.
New trailer rules for car driving licences
Category B allows to drive a vehicle of 3500 kg and a trailer of 750 kg.
With regard to vehicle-trailer combinations within category B, trailers of a weight exceeding 750 kg may be coupled to the towing vehicle, as long as the combination does not exceed 4250 kg and the rules on type-approval are respected (that fix the relation between the vehicle and the trailer).
However, for such combinations within category B that exceed the weight of 3500 kg, a training, a test or both a training and a test will be imposed. This provision will allow to drive bigger combinations within category B in the future than is the case today, pending a training and/or test is passed.
With regard to category BE, one will be allowed to tow trailers with a maximum authorized mass of 3500 kg. Combinations with a towing vehicle in category B and a trailer exceeding 3500 kg will fall within category C1E.
Progressive access to the most powerful trucks and lorries
In the interest of safety, driving licences for trucks and buses have been amended in order to:
refer to the number of passengers and not the number of seats;
bring the technical requirements for smaller trucks and buses in line with that of the market’s vehicles, and make them mandatory categories throughout the Union.
Category C: motor vehicles used for the transport of goods, the maximum authorised mass of which exceeds 3500 kg and not transporting more than eight passengers in addition to the driver. They may be combined with a trailer under 750 kg.
Category C1: same as C but for motor vehicles with a maximum authorised mass not exceeding 7500 kg. All Member States now need to introduce this category.
Category D: motor vehicles for the transport of passengers with a capacity to transport more than 8 passengers in addition to the driver. They may be combined with a trailer under 750 kg.
Category D1: same as D but for motor vehicles with a capacity to transport not more than 16 passengers in addition to the driver and with a maximum length not exceeding eight metres. They may be combined with a trailer under 750 kg. All Member States now need to introduce this category.
All 4 above categories can be combined with trailers over 750 kg, then needing a separate driving licence (categories CE, C1E, DE, D1E). All Member States now need to introduce these categories.
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