Taking a car abroad on holiday this summer: the rules have changed

Many company car drivers will be taking to continental roads this summer as they take their families on summer holidays and, depending on countries being visited, new rules have come into force.

New European Union regulations mean member states, including the UK, have to share information on drivers relating to traffic offences – with significant implications for fleets. The so-called Cross-Border Enforcement Directive, actually came into force two years ago, but the UK secured a derogation giving it until this month (May) to implement the change.

Critically, there are widespread implications for fleets and drivers as there are differences in member state laws around whether the driver or the registered keeper of a vehicle is responsible following an offence.

Meanwhile, company car drivers journeying to Paris, Lyon and Grenoble must display vehicle emissions stickers in their vehicles following the launch by the cities of the Crit’Air scheme. It is expected that a further 22 French towns and cities will introduce the system by 2020.

That is all in addition to company car drivers ensuring they have the correct vehicle ownership documentation with them, which must be carried by law when journeying abroad in most European countries.

In the case of a company car being owned by the driver’s employer that means being in possession of the vehicle’s registration document (V5C). However, if the vehicle is leased or hired than a Vehicle on Hire certificate (VE103) must be carried instead, which gives the owner’s permission for the vehicle to be driven overseas.

The Directive enables European Union drivers to be potentially identified for offences committed in a member state other than the one where their vehicle is registered.

In practical terms, the Directive provides member states access to each other’s vehicle registration data via an electronic information system to exchange the necessary information in which the offence was committed and the country in which the vehicle was registered.

Once the vehicle owner’s name and address are known, a letter to the presumed offender may be sent.

The Directive covers the eight most common traffic offences: Speeding, failing to use a seatbelt, failing to stop at a red traffic light, drink-driving, driving while under the influence of drugs, failing to wear a safety helmet, the use of a forbidden lane and illegally using a mobile telephone or any other communication devices while driving.

But the Directive does not harmonise either the nature of the offences, nor the system of sanctions for the offences. So it is the national rules in the member state of offence, which continue to apply regarding both the nature of the offence and sanctions.

RAC spokesman Simon Williams said how the new law would work was unclear. He explained: “Unfortunately the application of the Directive is simply not practical. In the UK it is the driver of a speeding vehicle who receives penalty points whereas in France it is the vehicle’s registered keeper who is deemed to be responsible. This means a French person caught speeding in the UK could get away with the offence if they were not the registered keeper of the vehicle concerned, as the French equivalent of the DVLA can only pass details of the offence to the keeper. This may make prosecution extremely hard for UK authorities.

“And if a UK driver is caught speeding in France in a vehicle they are not the owner of, they too might get away with the fine as the registered keeper in the UK would be pursued by the French authorities to pay. While the keeper can state in response they were not the driver, the big question is: will French authorities pursue and fine keepers who claim they weren’t driving at the time?”

The RAC said it had been advised by the Department for Transport that there was no transfer of penalty points to UK drivers’ licences for speeding offences committed abroad.

Nevertheless, said Mr Williams: “We strongly recommend every motorist travelling to Europe by car familiarises themselves with the local rules of the road as it is ultimately their responsibility to do so.”

Meanwhile, the Crit’Air scheme is designed to tackle pollution and requires all vehicles – cars, commercial vehicles, motorbikes and buses – to display a windscreen sticker, or vignette, according to how much they pollute.

The Crit’Air system is used on days when air quality is poor to prevent the worst polluting vehicles from driving in affected cities.

Stickers, which cost £3.60 (€4.18) each including postage, come in six categories and cover the very cleanest electric or hydrogen-powered vehicles (Crit’Air green sticker) to the dirtiest (Crit’Air 5 grey sticker). These relate to the six European Union emission standards for cars – dating back to 1992 when Euro1 was introduced. The penalty for failure to display a sticker is an on-the-spot fine of between €68-135 (£58 to £117). Vignettes can be ordered from the official Crit’Air website – www.certificat-air.gouv.fr/ – and should be delivered within 30 days. To apply for a sticker online drivers must know their vehicle’s European Emissions Standard. The fine for a failure to display a sticker is up to £117.

The FSGB view

Our advice is simple. If you know that you will be taking your company car – or your own car – abroad this summer then ensure you are in possession of the correct documentation as soon as possible. It takes times for documents to be applied for and processed and leaving it to the final days before departure could cause unnecessary stress and upheaval if the correct paperwork does not arrive in time.

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