The EC has kicked off a drive for data sharing amongst member countries' police forces in an effort to track down drivers who commit motoring offences in foreign countries.
The EC wants to punish drivers who speed, drink-drive, don't wear a seatbelt, or fail to stop at a red light whether they are in their home country or abroad. Currently, most foreign motorists escape punishment because law enforcement authorities in the local country cannot trace them, and in any case can't enforce the penalty.
The motivation for the move comes primarily because the EC is failing to meet a self-imposed goal of reducing EU road deaths by half for 2011. They fell year-on-year between 2001 and 2006, but stalled in 2007.
The past five years have seen a 47 per cent rise in the number of foreign drivers involved in accidents in Britain, while foreign lorry drivers are three times more likely to be involved in collisions in this country than their British counterparts.
The Commission's clampdown is based on the construction of a new network to transfer data on traffic offenders between Member States. It would work thus - the country where the offence has been committed sends the vehicle registration number and the nature of the offence to the drivers' own country. If they can't identify the country involved, the information will be sent to all 27 EU states.
When a country receives information that one of their citizens has caused an offence, it will write to them, giving details of how to pay the fine and how to appeal if the driver thinks it's unjust. There will be no wriggling out using the 'I wasn't driving' defence, as the driver will have to name the person who was driving at the time.
The plan needs approval from the EU Council, Transport Ministers and MEPs. It will become law one year after it formally gains their support, and would become operational within another year. So it's unlikely any system will be in place before the end of the decade.
"Road safety is everyone's business and a priority for the Commission," said Jacques Barrot, vice president responsible for transport. "If we are to reach this [road deaths] target, we need to make additional efforts now."
The system is likely to be difficult to implement. It requires communications between all 27 countries to be seamless - that's 702 different ways in which info will need to be passed - and it needs the authorities in the UK to be arsed about offences that happen in Estonia, Lithuania and Malta.
Drivers will no doubt be concerned over the privacy of their information. Although the EC will oversee the scheme, it told El Reg it won't get involved in policing data protection, which will instead be the responsibility of member states. Some states are distinctly better than others in respecting individuals' data, especially when it comes to people who don't actually live there.
Privacy campaigners may also be concerned that the pan-European project might provide the foundation for a wider information-sharing network for the police, but the Commission denied this would be the case. "I doubt it," a spokesperson said. "That would be mission creep."
The EC wants to clamp down solely on the four offences of speeding, drink-driving, not wearing a seatbelt and not stopping at a red light as they account for nearly three in four road deaths. Drivers committing other wrongdoings outside of their home country look set to continue to get away with it.
The EC's clampdown only covers fines as well, so offenders won't be picking up any points on their licence. ®