From tomorrow (19 January) member states will no longer be able to issue paper driving licences that are valid for life. A new driving licence directive which takes effect tomorrow states that all new licences must follow a common format – credit-card-sized plastic licences which expire every 10-15 years.
The EU licences will follow a specific format using numbers for information fields (name or expiry date for example) and letters for vehicle categories. This is designed to make the licences easily readable for law enforcement officers across Europe. Member state drivers licences are valid across the EU under EU law, but the different formats has meant law enforcement officers have to carry a large reference book with details on other countries' licences. In reality, few actually carry this book.
The new directive does not introduce standards for driving tests or for minimum or maximum age except for one category – the minimum age for mopeds cannot be lower than 14. The directive does introduce common qualification and certification requirements for driving instructors.
Licenses will still be national, and penalty points will not be transferable from one member state to another. But the new directive will create a European electronic data exchange system to facilitate the exchange of information - such as whether a previous license has been revoked - between national administrations. This is designed to prevent 'driving license tourism', where someone who loses their license in their home country obtains a new one in another member state.
“Traffic police across Europe are currently expected to recognise more than 100 different types of paper and plastic driving licence,” said Siim Kallas, European commissioner for transport. “ID photos may be long out of date, the categories for which the driver is licensed unclear and the document may be easy to forge.”
About a third of member states have issued licences for life. The new directive mandates that all new licences must be renewed every 15 years at the most. People with licences for life must trade them in for a new licence by 2033. Belgium, France and Cyprus are still issuing paper licences at this time and will not be compliant with the directive by tomorrow, the Commission said. France said it will be compliant within six months, but it is not known when Belgium will be compliant.