Brussels In The Driving Seat: The Abolition Of The UK’s Paper Licences:

“Power will be repatriated back to the Westminster Parliament”. This was one of the key commitments made by the Conservative Party during their election campaign. Yet, just a few days after British Prime Minister David Cameron, with his renewed mandate, returned from touring European capitals to elicit support for changes to the 2009 Lisbon Treaty, a new element of EU legislation is about to come into effect in the UK.

From Monday 8th June, paper driving licences will become obsolete –apart from those issued before 1998, which will be replaced by the photo-card version when an application for renewal is submitted to the DVLA (Driver & Vehicle Licensing Agency). This means that Britain has finally fallen into line with the EU’s introduction on January 19th 2013 of “a credit card-style replacement for the more than 100 different paper and plastic licences (then) in use by more than 100 million motorists across the 27 European member states”.

As “The Independent” noted, Brussel’s proclaimed objective was “to improve free movement across borders, crack down on driving licence fraud and improve road safety across the EU”.  The suspicion among some UK “Europhobes” that this move could herald yet another perceived threat to Britain’s controls over its own affairs will, however, have been exacerbated by a report in the “ Daily Express” by Aaron Brown on February 10th .

This asserted that “British drivers could be stripped of UK licences under new EU laws”. The European Commission, he wrote, “is proposing new legislation in a bid to harmonise penalty points across Europe”, which will cover offences such as “speeding, drink and drug driving, ignoring red lights and using a mobile phone behind the wheel”. Although these changes “are expected to be backed by a majority of EU politicians in Brussels”, the Conservative’s Under-Secretary of State for Transport, Robert Goodwill, “has vowed that they will be opposed by Britain”.

After 8th June, information about penalty points and endorsements imposed in the UK  will only be available on the DVLA’s website. Thus, (as noted by “Moneywise”) anyone who wants to “provide evidence of their driving record” to (for example) a car hire company or prospective employer will have to access the details online at (www.gov.uk/view-driving-licence), obtain them over the phone (0300 790 6801) or apply for them by post to the DVLA.

Meanwhile: According to the “1st Drive” company based in Birmingham, new driving test rules –prominent among them, displaying an ability to follow directions provided by a sat nav –  “could become standard for everyone across the country from around 2016 onwards”. The requirement to do a “three point turn” or reverse round a corner, (says “1st Drive”) will be dropped. The Gov.UK website  currently specifies that the practical part of the test will last around 40 minutes and include “normal stops, an angle start (pulling out from behind a parked vehicle), a hill start and possibly an emergency stop”. A friend or relative over 16 years old can sit in the back of the car during the test, but they cannot participate in anyway – including translating the examiner’s instructions.

Until 7th April 2014, interpreters in 19 different languages – among them Albanian, Arabic, Cantonese, Bengali,Turkish, Portuguese and Spanish -were allowed to accompany candidates for both their theoretical and practical tests. The “Daily Mail’s” Ray Massey estimated that this was happening on at least 145,000 occasions each year. This option was banned after the DVLA discovered that hundreds of applicant drivers had been “coached” by their translators. Now, “in a bid to stop cheating, increase social cohesion & integration, cut costs and boost road safety”, only English and Welsh are permitted.

On January 12th, the DVLA also implemented further changes to the theory test. The vehicles, roads and surroundings featured on the new CGI (Computer Generated Imagery) video-clips have been “updated to reflect modern day driving”. A wider range of potentially hazardous situations, such as encountering vulnerable road users like children and cyclists, adapting to night time driving or coping with bad weather, are now shown on the screen. This is likely to meet with the approval of the AA (Automobile Association). In a poll of 11,361 drivers carried out with the “Populus” organization, 28% weren’t sure who has priority when traffic lights aren’t working: 23% said it was the traffic going straight on, 3% those turning right and 2% those turning left. The correct answer is apparently: “nobody” – so everyone has to take great care, to avoid accidents. Furthermore, 46% of respondents were uncertain about “the meaning of a flashing amber light (also known as a “Belisha Beacon” after the minister, Leslie Hore-Belisha, who introduced them in 1935) at a pelican crossing.  Correct answer: Give way to pedestrians waiting to use it to get to the other side of the road.

Filed under: Society, Travel | Posted on June 5th, 2015 by Colin D Gordon

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