UK authorities CAN'T chase foreign drivers for offences committed on our roads

So far this year, more than 300,000 UK motorists have received fines in the post for driving offences committed in European countries. 

Due to an agreement the UK was forced to sign up to in 2017, foreign police forces can request the addresses of owners of British cars that have been caught by breaking traffic laws in their countries and issue fines through the post.

However, one major difference in how motoring offences are enforced in the UK means that not one foreign driver has been chased for felonies such as speeding or jumping red lights on UK roads, This is Money can reveal. 

One way fines: British motorists can be pursued by foreign authorities if they’re caught speeding or committing other traffic offences overseas – but not vice versa 

The days of British motorists being able to get away with driving offences committed on foreign roads became a thing of the past when the UK became a member of a alliance designed to make it easier for police from different nations to share details about drivers who have broken laws in countries they don’t live in. 

Under the Mutual Legal Assistance scheme – which the UK rejected in 2011 but was forced to adhere to two years ago – foreign police can apply to UK authorities for a driver’s information. 

Under the agreement, the Driver and Vehicle Licencing Agency must supply these details. 

That means any offence that’s captured by cameras is fair game for foreign police to enforce with fines, even when drivers have returned back to the UK. 

Under these rules, fines can be enforced on Britons driving in foreign countries for offences including speeding, failure to wear a seatbelt, not stopping at a red traffic light or other mandatory stop signal and drink or drug driving.

Penalties for use of forbidden lanes (such as an emergency lane, a lane reserved for public transport, or a lane closed down for road works) and using a mobile phone at the wheel can also be chased. 

Once overseas authorities have received the car owner’s details from the DVLA, automated fines are sent to them in the post and must be paid to avoid further action.

UK authorities CAN'T chase foreign drivers for offences committed on our roads

Under the MLA agreement, the DVLA must provide foreign police forces with the details of the owner of a UK registered car that’s been caught committing motoring offences

But, shockingly, the same rules don’t work in reverse.

The Home Office confirmed to This is Money that the UK doesn’t have the same powers to chase drivers of foreign-registered motors who are caught on camera breaking the law on British roads.

It’s due to one major difference in how fines and penalties are enforced in the UK compared to the rest of Europe.

That’s because it’s the owner of the car who is the one liable for offences in other EU countries and are therefore legally pursued by authorities. 

However, UK law dictates that it’s the driver – not the vehicle owner – who was at the wheel at the time who is legally required to receive penalties.

This is why police in the UK have to prove a motorist was driving before handing out points and fines for offences such as speeding.

The approach used by other EU nations is a double-edged sword for Britons, as vehicle owners can also be forced to pay fines issued by overseas police even if they weren’t the one committing the offence – though in most cases, the owner is the one most likely driving at the time.

A Home Office spokesperson confirmed to This is Money that there is ‘no legal mechanism’ in place to ‘compel foreign registered vehicle keepers to provide us with details of who was driving at the time of the offence’.

They added that no UK government or enforcement body makes requests for foreign driver details.

UK authorities CAN'T chase foreign drivers for offences committed on our roads

The owner of the offending car is the one liable for offences in other EU countries and are therefore legally pursued by authorities – in the UK, it’s the driver

The Home Office said this is unlikely to change while the UK is a member of the EU, with the spokesperson adding: ‘In the UK, we only fine the driver, not the vehicle owner.

We have no plans to change this.’   

It warned that UK motorists are likely to still be pursued by foreign police once Brexit is concluded. 

Driver details will continue to be shared by DVLA under the CBE (Cross Border Exchange of Information on Road Safety Related Traffic Offences) directive, the spokesperson said.

When asked about the state of play with MLA after Brexit, the Home Office representative confirmed: ‘In the absence of EU legislation, the UK will move our cooperation with EU Member States to the tried and tested mechanisms that we already use for cooperation with non-EU countries.’  

This is Money contacted the Department for Transport for comment, though was told that all queries regarding MLA and fines for foreign drivers ‘is one for the Home Office to answer, not us’.

UK authorities CAN'T chase foreign drivers for offences committed on our roads

There was a 250% increase in requests for UK-driver details from French authorities at the start of the year due to fears that fines would not be able to be pursued for much longer

What can Britain do about the pursuit of fines post Brexit?

However, there could be a potential light at the end of the tunnel for British drivers. 

memorandum issued by the Department of Transport in 2016 suggests the UK government has grown frustrated with the EU’s failure to introduce a level playing field in relation to accessing the details of vehicle owner’s who live in foreign countries.

It says: ‘In the most recent Expert Working Group on CBE held on 21 November 2016, the possibility of formulating a sub-group to specifically look at ‘secondary enforcement measures’ was raised.

‘These enforcement measures might include (but not be limited to): resolving the driver liability issue by tightening the enforcement measures, easier prosecution of offenders in the courts and easier transferring of penalties through the framework for Mutual Recognition of Financial Penalties.’   

The AA said the report had sparked the recent flood of requests from French police for UK driver’s details.

This is Money previously revealed that in the five months between February and June 2019, three quarters of the 325,000 requests from foreign police for UK driver details were sent by French authorities.

This was a 250 per cent increase compared to the same months in 2018, as French authorities looked to collect as many fines as possible before 29 March – the initial date Britain’s divorce from the EU was expected to take place. 

With the next Brexit deadline fast approaching at the end of October, more requests are expected from foreign police looking to cash-in before Britain can establish new rules that could potentially close the tap on this revenue stream.  

UK authorities CAN'T chase foreign drivers for offences committed on our roads

Foreign drivers stopped at the roadside for speeding or breaking other laws in their cars are issued with fixed penalty notices but rarely pay up

Do police have ANY powers to fine foreign drivers today?

The Home Office did confirm to This is Money that while UK authorities have no powers to enforce secondary fines for offences detected by cameras, penalties can be issued to those caught in the act by officers. 

‘Any driver stopped by the police for motoring offences in the UK will continue to be punished, whether British or foreign,’ they clarified.

The UK has for a decade has been using a ‘deposit’ system for offending foreign drivers – a system previously used by the French.

Failure to pay the levy is a criminal offence, attracting a GBP300 fixed penalty notice.

While HGV drivers need to pay a deposit towards the full fine, drivers of passenger cars don’t and escape the charge. 

The chances of drivers being stopped at the roadside are also diminishing as the declining number of dedicated UK transport police means foreign motorists are increasingly likely to escape without even a slap on the wrist. 

A report last year revealed that on-duty traffic officers had dropped by almost a quarter since 2012. 

Figures show that back in 2010 there were 3,472 police patrolling the UK’s roads.

By 2017 this had fallen to just 2,643, with some forces – such as Northamptonshire Police – recording declines of as much as 83 per cent in that time.   

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