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DRIVING LICENCES

Foreign drivers could get simpler way to exchange licence under EU proposal

The EU Commission on Wednesday presented proposals for new EU driving licence rules which could make it easier for people from non-EU countries to swap their licences.

Foreign drivers could get simpler way to exchange licence under EU proposal
Vehicles pass through the Vienne-Reventin toll gate on the A7 freeway in Reventin-Vaugris, France. An EU Commission proposal could make it easier for holders of non-EU driving licences to switch to EU licences after moving to EU member countries. File photo: JEAN-PHILIPPE KSIAZEK / AFP

In a statement, the Commission said its proposal would “modernise driving licence rules” across member countries.

One of the changes included in the proposal would allow drivers from non-EU countries with road safety standards considered ‘comparable’ to the EU to more easily exchange their existing licence for an EU one.

Under existing rules across the EU, holders of driving licences issued in non-EU countries often need to re-take driving tests to be granted an EU driving licence after moving to the EU.

In some cases, this can lead to experienced drivers having to spend a significant amount of time and money on taking a new driving test, and in some countries taking compulsory driving lessons before being able to take the test. 

This is a particular problem for Americans since agreements on swapping licences are done on a state-by-state basis so that, for example, Americans in France whose licence was issued by the state of Maryland can simply swap it for a French licence, while those whose licence was issued in California have to take a French driving test

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Under the EU Commission’s proposal, drivers from countries it identifies as having high enough road safety standards will “be able to exchange their licences for EU licences either without having to repeat training or testing, or by carrying this out based on uniform conditions throughout the EU”, the Commission states.

The countries which would qualify for this will be confirmed at a later date, it said.

The procedure for approving a non-EU or “third” country for the scheme would involve that country being identified by the Commission and then each EU member state given a six-month deadline to provide its opinion on factors including driving licencing standards and road infrastructure in that country, according to the text of the proposal. Should the country be approved, it would be reviewed every four years. Approved countries would be listed on the Commission’s website.

Languages

Another element of the proposal could make it easier for those foreign residents who do have to take a test, but giving them a helping hand with the language.

People who do not speak an official language in the country where they take their test to a high enough standard – and bear in mind that driving tests involve some quite technical language – will be allowed to take the test in another country in which they do speak the language, the Commission said.

This means that, for example, a US national living in Germany who does not speak German might be permitted to take a test in Ireland “if it is not possible to use an interpreter to assist them”.

“This will make life easier for mobile citizens within the EU, especially young people, by ensuring they are tested on their driving skills rather than their language knowledge,” it said.

An aim of the broad package of proposals published on Wednesday is to remove “obstacles to cross-border mobility,” EU Commissioner for Transport Adina Vălean said in the statement.

“Today’s package of proposals seeks to simplify rules on driving licences while adapting them to technological and medical progress,” Vălean said.

The proposals also aim to improve road safety “through better cross-border exchange of information on traffic offences and driver disqualification for the most serious ones. Safe driving is crucial in our efforts to halve road deaths and serious injuries by 2030,” she said.

The Commission also proposes “the introduction of a digital driving licence valid throughout the EU, and new provisions to facilitate the enforcement of traffic rules across borders”.

The introduction of a digital driving licence would be a “world first”, the Commission said. The move would “simplify the recognition of driving licences between member states”, it noted.

Switching procedures online will meanwhile make it easier to replace, renew or exchange a driving licence, it added.

Additionally, the proposed rules will allow young drivers to gain experience through an “accompanied driving scheme”.

This means that learner drivers will be able to obtain a licence from the age of 17 but will not be allowed to drive unaccompanied until they have turned 18.  

Drivers who pass aged 17 will be able to drive alone from their 18th birthday, and to work as a professional driver as soon as a specific job allows. This will help address a current driver shortage, the Commission said.

Rules allowing accompanied driving at 17 already exist in some member states, including Germany and Austria.

A number of new safety rules are also included in the proposal. These follow best practices already in place in several EU member countries, according to the statement.

A dedicated IT portal will provide easy access to information on the road safety rules in place in each EU member state, while broadened sharing between national registers will give more effective punishment of safety-related traffic offences committed by non-residents across member states.

Disqualification for serious offences would become EU-wide. Currently, it can only be enforced in the country which issued the licence. Serious offences include excessive speeding, driving under the influence of drugs or alcohol, or causing death or serious injury as a result of a traffic offence.

The proposals must be considered by the European Parliament and Council under the EU’s normal legislative procedure.

Member comments

  1. Are there any updates on this proposed initiative? I am certain there are lots of potential drivers with 40+ years driving experience who would love to simply exchange licenses.

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DRIVING

Camper van warning for UK driving licence holders in France

UK driving licence holders who are swapping their licence for a French one have been warned that there are limits to the type of vehicles that can be driven with their new licence, after a clarification from French authorities.

Camper van warning for UK driving licence holders in France

The post-Brexit saga of driving licences for Brits living in France has been long, complicated and painful.

It is, however, now largely resolved – a deal has been agreed, the enormous backlog of applications has been cleared and most applications for a driving licence swap are proceeding fairly smoothly

READ ALSO How to swap your UK licence for a French one

There was, however, one issue remaining – whether the new French licence would allow the same rights to drive certain types of larger vehicles, including camper vans and motorhomes. 

What’s the issue?

Anyone who obtained a UK driving licence after 1997 is entitled to drive vehicles up to 3,500kg maximum authorised mass (MAM) with up to 8 passenger seats. People wishing to drive vehicles up to 8,250kg maximum authorised mass (MAM) – for example minibuses or the larger types of campervan – need to take an extra test.

However, those who got their UK licences before 1997 were entitled to drive vehicles up to 8,250kg without needing to take an extra test.

The problem is that the standard French driving licence – the Permis B – does not allow for the driving of larger vehicles without a separate test. Permis B holders can drive vehicles weighing up to 3.5 tonnes with eight passengers or fewer.

So for people who got their UK licences after 1997 it’s basically a like-for-like swap.

However, those who got their licences before 1997 found that their French licence allowed them to drive fewer categories of vehicles than their UK one.

This has been a particular problem for enthusiasts of camper vans or mobile homes – some of whom had already purchased larger vehicles that were legal on their UK licence, but which they now cannot drive on a French licence.

The issue does not affect people who live in the UK – they can continue to drive larger camper vans and other vehicles in France, in accordance with the conditions of their UK driving licence.

The decision

The post-Brexit driving licence deal was finally agreed in 2021, and the gradual swap of UK driving licences for French residents began.

The question of the exchange of rights for larger vehicles, however, has been under negotiation ever since.

But French authorities have now definitely clarified that the larger vehicle rights of older UK licences cannot be exchanged for an equivalent French licence without taking a test.

Anyone who already has a French Permis B – the standard driving licence – will need to take the extra French test in order to regain their rights to drive heavier cars, vans and camper vans.

The UK government’s Living in France page has now been updated to reflect this clarification.

You can find full information on the options for a French test, as well as the relevant French driving licence categories for larger vehicles, HERE or in English on the Facebook group Driving in France – French Licence Application.

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