EU Parliament rejects limited driver’s license validity period

The European Parliament rejects limiting the validity period of driving licenses for older drivers. Earlier, European Mobility Ministers also agreed that there would be no specific validity restriction on driving licenses for the over-70s.

The legislation, which also introduces a digital driving license on smartphones, has yet to be negotiated with members; it emerged on Wednesday in Strasbourg, where the hemisphere set out its position on new rules on driving licenses.

What to do when issuing or renewing a driving license the hemisphere leaves it up to member states. They can opt for a medical check-up as well as self-assessment. The MEPs ask member states for a framework for cooperation with family doctors and to raise awareness about physical and mental health, indicating whether a person can drive.

‘Powerful’car lobby

Karima Delli of the French Greens, who had to steer the dossier through Parliament, pointed out that medical checks already exist in 14 member states, including Portugal (from 40 years), Italy (50 years), Finland (70 years), and the Netherlands (75 years).

“The report was approved but did not meet the challenges,” Delli lamented, arguing that “fake news” and “misleading arguments” had poisoned the debate on road safety. She also denounced the ‘powerful’ car lobby.

In Belgium, among other countries, there had been widespread opposition to the European Commission’s proposal that would force over-70s to renew driving licenses every five years, whether coupled with medical checks or a self-test.

The MEPs agreed that driving licenses should be valid for at least 15 years for motorcycles and cars and five years for trucks and buses. They did not support reducing the validity of driving licenses for elderly people “to avoid discrimination and to ensure their right to freedom of movement and participation in economic and social life”.

Older drivers are no worse drivers

Previous research by Vias and others shows that older drivers have an increased risk of dying or being seriously injured in an accident. For this risk, older drivers (75+) match young, inexperienced drivers (18). They are four times less involved in serious accidents than young drivers.

However, the risk of being slightly injured themselves or seriously injuring or killing someone else is much lower than for young drivers but higher than for middle-aged drivers. Older people are thus more likely to put themselves at risk in traffic than others.

Vias is not opposed to reassessing driving abilities if this applies to everyone, not just those over 65. Commenting in Le Soir newspaper, Belgian Mobility Minister Georges Gilkinet (Ecolo) said that “the general and systematic medical examination is not an effective tool.”

“This would mean a considerable workload – some 400,000 licenses need to be renewed yearly – while a targeted approach to the most problematic profiles would be much more profitable.”

The Minister specifies that the obligation to meet minimum medical standards to be fit to drive is already present in Belgian legislation and will be added to the reminder form for renewal – currently every ten years – of the driving license.

No zero tolerance for alcohol and drugs

The reform of driving license rules is part of several proposals the Commission had put on the table to facilitate free movement with the EU and strengthen road safety. Last year, more than 20,000 people were killed on European roads, and more than 160,000 were seriously injured. The EU wants to reduce the number of deaths and injuries by 50% by 2030.

An amendment by Kathleen Van Brempt (Vooruit/S&D) to introduce zero tolerance for alcohol and drugs did not survive the vote. The hemisphere did eventually advocate a 0.2% alcohol limit for inexperienced drivers, who also will be subject to a two-year probationary period and will get harsher penalties in case of dangerous driving.

‘Schoolchildren’ as truck drivers

To address the shortage of professional drivers, the Parliament also wants to allow 17-year-olds to drive a truck under supervision. Much to the dismay of the European Transport Safety Council. “If we want more truck drivers, we need to significantly improve working conditions in the sector rather than sign up schoolchildren for this work,” responded director Antonio Avennoso of the independent organization that works to reduce road deaths.

The legislation, which also introduces a digital driving license on smartphones, has yet to be negotiated with member states. Parliament’s position was approved on Wednesday by 339 votes to 240 (37 abstentions). The file will now be transferred to the new Parliament, which will start work after the European elections in June.

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