The European Union agreed Monday to create an EU-wide driving license to replace over 100 existing national versions with a credit-card style document valid across the 25-nation bloc.
The new European license on top of old national documents
After being held up for two years, EU transport ministers gave the green light for the license under a new EU law to come into force by the end of 2006, the EU's Austrian presidency said.
"All drivers will have clear, modern licenses that will be accepted in all member states," said EU Transport Commissioner Jacques Barrot. "It will make travel around Europe easier and without bureaucratic difficulties."
Barrot added that the new license will be "of vital importance for road safety and for the fight
The new document is aimed at preventing fraud and making security checks easier, but also simplifying life for ordinary Europeans moving between EU states and facing varying rules for renewal of documentation.
Cracki n g dow n o n fraud
Officials hope the license will make European streets safer
It will also crack down on so-called "driving license tourism," in which people who have had their license taken away in one EU state, for example due to repeated offenses, can move to another state and apply for one there.
Procedures and tests to obtain a driving license will remain different in each EU member state under the draft rules. But they will introduce a common document in all EU states: a credit-card style and counterfeit-proof plastic license including, for countries who want it, a microchip to make it computer-readable.
Member states will have until 2012 to start issuing the new licenses although previous licenses will not have to be changed before 2032.
Re n ewal required
Germans do not have to renew the licenses so far
Under the new law, the license would be renewable in principle every 10 years, although that can be extended to 15 years for countries wishing to do so. Licenses for trucks and buses are to be valid for five years.
Such renewal periods are already in place in some EU countries, but not all. In Austria, Belgium, France and Germany, the countries where opposition to the project was the strongest, licenses are valid for an unlimited period.
The new driving license would also cover mopeds while people wanting to drive powerful motorcycles would have to be at least 24 years old and already have experience with less powerful motorcycles.
Safety co n cer n s
The new EU driving license has been a top priority for Barrot, who argues that that it will help clamp down on road accidents which killed 40,000 people in the EU last year.
The license won't be able to prevent traffic jams
The European Transport Safety Council hailed the agreement which it said would "enhance road safety amongst novice drivers, improve cross-border enforcement and fight against driving license tourism across Europe."
The road safety pressure group urged the EU's Austrian presidency to keep up pressure to make sure that it is adopted by the end of its presidency in June.
The European Parliament, which shares responsibility for such issues with EU governments, has already voted on the draft law and will have to hold a second reading before it can go into effect, which the European Commission says is possible by the end of the year.