The European Union parliament last week gave final approval for a pan-European driving license scheme. The current plan is to create a database tracking drivers' history throughout Europe, rather than allowing drivers with a bad record in one country to obtain a new license in a different country.
Individual European State governments would have a choice of whether to issue the new forgery-proof licenses for 10 or 15 years. The credit card-style license, with photograph and possibly a microchip, will begin introduction in 2013; phasing in of the new license will be completed by 2032.
300 million drivers throughout the European Union currently use at least 110 different paper and plastic licenses and various documents. The single biometric license would replace most, if not all, of these documents.
Belgian MEP Mathieu Grosch said some licenses still in use were so old that they had been issued by states that no longer exist, such as the former East Germany.
Greatly reducing the number of possible documents and making the new license "forgery-proof" will ease the burden on all law enforcement agencies throughout Europe. Biometric RFID chips, if they are included at the option of individual States, would allow agencies to scan the licenses locally and connect to an international database, often in near-real time.
Licenses for truck and bus drivers will be valid for only five years, requiring regular renewal and associated testing. For motorcyclists, a "step-up" approach will become obligatory in all member states, meaning that new riders will have to build up experience on smaller motorcycles before moving on to larger engines.
"The times when people convicted of drink-driving could simply get a new license in another country will soon be over," said German Socialist MEP Willi Pieczyk. Currently, "driving license tourism" is becoming a serious problem as drivers with serious convictions on their records banned in one country can often get a new license in another EU State.
Some EU countries currently grant driving licenses for life. Germany and Austria were reluctant to agree to a license that had to be regularly renewed, but dropped their objections this past March.
Member states will have the option to include a microchip to store information about the driver.
"The common EU driving license will play a major role in improving security on European roads and in fighting fraud," said Transport Commissioner Jacques Barrot.
"Each European driver will carry a driving license that is clear, modern and recognized in all EU member states."
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