Official Journal of the European Union

C 112/34

Opinion of the European Economic and Social Committee on the ‘proposal for a Directive of the European Parliament and of the Council on driving licences (Recasting)’

(COM(2003) 621 final - 2003/0252 (COD))

(2004/C 112/09)

On 13 January 2004, the Council decided to consult the European Economic and Social Committee, under Article 71 of the Treaty establishing the European Community, on the above-mentioned proposal.

The Section for Transport, Energy, Infrastructure and the Information Society, which was responsible for preparing the Committee's work on the subject, adopted its opinion on 2 March 2004. The rapporteur was Mr Simons.

At its 407th plenary session (meeting of 31 March 2004) the European Economic and Social Committee adopted the following opinion with 99 votes in favour and one abstention.

1.   Introduction


Mobility is a key issue for very many Europeans of all ages. The vast majority of Europeans over the age of 18 hold a driving licence, giving them access to motorised mobility. In Europe in particular, with its increasingly ageing population, holding a driving licence is often vital for maintaining contact with the outside world, and even for meeting basic needs. Any proposal for a European directive on driving licences thus affects all Europeans. The importance of such a proposal cannot therefore be underestimated.


In submitting legislation on driving licences in the EEA, the European Commission is seeking to enhance the free movement of Community citizens, reduce the possibility of fraud and help improve road safety. The Commission had these objectives in mind in earlier driving licence legislation and they will continue to underpin future laws in this field.


Over the past few years, Community citizens have faced more rather than less legal uncertainty in spite of all the measures that have been taken over that period. (1) The European Commission considers it essential that the legal uncertainty for citizens, which hinders their free movement, be removed. This objective falls within the framework of the much wider objectives set by the European Council in the Lisbon agenda, namely achieving 100 % functioning of the internal market, including in the field of competition. The proposed directive seeks to remove the last obstacles relating to driving licences, and the Commission views this as the end of a process of gradual harmonisation.


In addition to moves by the Commission to secure the full mutual recognition of driving licences so as to foster the free movement of Community citizens, the directive also proposes a number of specific legal changes designed to promote road safety. These measures include the introduction of new vehicle categories for driving licences, the introduction of tiered access to these categories so that drivers first acquire experience with smaller vehicles, harmonisation of the periodicity of the checks on drivers' medical fitness, special consideration for disabled driver access to motorised transport, and minimum training requirements for examiners.


The third key point in the proposal relates to reducing the possibilities of fraud in driving licences. The aim is to make driving licences less susceptible to fraud by eliminating the possibility of issuing paper models through the mandatory introduction of a plastic card, and by limiting the licence's administrative validity.

2.   General comments


The Committee endorses the European Commission's objectives in submitting this proposal (improving road safety, reducing the possibilities of fraud and enhancing the free movement of Community citizens). The proposal ties in with the Commission's European Road Safety Action Programme: Halving the number of road accident victims in the European Union by 2010: A shared responsibility (2) and the earlier White Paper European transport policy for 2010: Time to decide (3).


The Committee is particularly pleased that the proposal stresses the human aspect of transport and that it puts forward practical measures for dealing with the human side of road safety. In its opinion on the European Road Safety Action Programme: Halving the number of road accident victims in the European Union by 2010: A shared responsibility (4) the Committee noted the importance of the human element of road safety, and it is thus very pleased that the Commission proposal focuses on that aspect in particular.


The Committee considers that many of the proposed measures have far-reaching implications for Member State citizens (the limited administrative validity of driving licences), for driving licence applicants and holders in certain categories (medical checks, progressive access to certain categories, higher minimum ages) and for driving schools (new categories, changed vehicle requirements in categories C1 en D1). These implications will not always be welcomed by the individuals concerned and, in a number of cases, there will be increased administrative pressure and higher costs. The Committee would ask that consideration be given to the impact of this directive and draws the Commission's attention to the need for a sufficiently long transitional period for implementing the measures under it. Such an approach is warranted inter alia because, in a number of Member States, the changes required under Directive 91/439/EEC (5) have not long been in place. This does not mean that the Committee does not broadly endorse the measures proposed under this directive, but it is critical of some points.

3.   Specific comments


The Committee endorses limiting the administrative validity of driving licences. It agrees with the reasoning that this both enhances the free movement of Community citizens and reduces the possibility of fraud with the driving licence document. The European Commission does not consider it necessary to limit the validity of driving licences that are already in circulation. It argues that, under the subsidiarity principle, the Member States are authorised to recall older models that no longer comply with fraud prevention requirements. The Committee would question this partial exemption as it means that some Member States will have an actual transitional period of more than fifty years. The Committee thus proposes firming up Article 3(2) to provide greater security with regard to the exchange of older driving licence models that do not meet the fraud prevention requirements. This could be achieved by replacing the words ‘They shall inform the Commission thereof’ in Article 3(2) by ‘The Commission must give its approval’. This recommendation is prompted, among other things, by the fact that, in some countries, driving licences may also be used as identity documents. Anti-fraud protection is thus of crucial importance.


The Committee welcomes the Commission proposal to replace paper driving licence models with a plastic card, possibly with a built-in chip. The Committee feels that this makes for greater uniformity between the Member States and significantly reduces the possibility of fraud. At the same time, the Committee also recommends that even more be done to protect the document against fraud, and calls for optimum security features both in and on the document similar to the security requirements for passports.


The Committee also endorses the proposed harmonisation of medical checks for holders of Group 2 licences. Both the periodicity and the content of these medical checks need to be harmonised at Community level to prevent distortions of competition between the Member States. That said, the Committee is not happy about applying the same requirements for medical checks both to the ‘big’ categories C and D (lorries and buses) and the ‘small’ categories C1 and D1. The Committee feels that less frequent medical checks would be appropriate for categories C1 and D1. The Committee also feels that this requirement should likewise apply to other professional drivers who, by virtue of their vehicle definition, hold Group 1 licences. Taxi drivers are a case in point.


The present Commission proposal no longer allows Member States to issue driving licences with limited validity for medical reasons. Member States had that power under previous legislation, and the Committee feels they should retain it.


The Committee fully endorses the proposed vehicle re-categorisation for driving licences. The introduction of a driving licence category AM and the mandatory introduction of the light motorcycle category A1 at the age of sixteen will resolve many of the difficulties surrounding these light two-wheelers. In particular, the Committee feels that there will be a direct improvement in road safety by giving sixteen-year-old drivers in the Member States an alternative to the accident-prone moped that involves more thorough training and both theoretical and practical tests. An added distinction is also being made between categories A2 and A, with a mandatory second driving test and higher age limits. These are promising developments for a vehicle type with a disproportionately high accident rate.


The Committee fully supports the new definition of vehicle categories C1 and D1, with the maximum permitted weight now fixed at 6,000 kg as opposed to the original figure of 7,500 kg. The Committee welcomes this move, particularly as it better reflects the vehicles' technical characteristics. The Committee also endorses the equivalence between C1 en D1 vehicles. This equivalence is not detrimental to road safety as the vehicles in these two categories have the same technical specifications and are, for instance, equipped with the same type of brake fittings. The 6,000 kg upper limit also marks the transition to a different technical specification, with, for instance, a different type of brake fitting. Thus, drivers trained to operate category C1 vehicles are just as well equipped to operate category D1 vehicles as well. This equivalence also offers drivers of these vehicles greater freedom and enhanced possibilities.


The Committee feels that the mandatory introduction of the ‘small’ categories C1 and D1, which were still optional under the Directive on driving licences (91/439/EEC), will also enhance road safety, especially in urban areas. The Committee expects increasing use to be made of these vehicle categories in urban areas to deliver goods and transport people. This means that ‘large’ vehicles will no longer need to enter town centres, benefiting urban dwellers in terms of both road safety and pollution emissions. The Committee does feel, however, that, for this effect to kick in, these categories must be made more attractive, for instance by requiring less frequent medical examinations for categories C1 and D1.


The Committee welcomes the clarification of the definition of vehicle category B+E. The revised definition clarifies this category by stipulating, among other things, that a B+E licence is required to drive trailers with a maximum authorised mass exceeding 750 kg. The Committee very much welcomes the clarification this brings both for the public and for enforcement.


On the other hand, the definition of vehicle categories B+E and C1+E could be made clearer. The Committee feels that the definition of vehicle category C1+E raises particular difficulties as the maximum authorised mass of the trailer is contingent on the maximum authorised mass of the tractor vehicle. This means that, under this category of driving licence, only extremely light trailers are allowed, while much heavier trailers may be used with driving licence category B+E. For instance, under the present and proposed new definition, it is not in practice possible in view of the weight distribution to drive a combination of a tractor vehicle and semi-trailer in category C1+E, while the same option is open under category B+E. Indeed, this very possibility – driving a combination of a tractor vehicle and semi-trailer under driving licence category B+E – is deemed undesirable by the Committee. This combination, which the Committee feels is used only for professional transportation, would be better suited to category C1+E, but that is not possible under the proposed definition.


For that reason, the Committee would ask that further consideration be given to the definitions of trailer classes. One option that would secure clarity for both the public and enforcement agents and would also improve road safety would be to define trailer classes independently of the weight of the tractor vehicle, and to include not only a lower weight limit, but an upper limit as well.


The Committee would also point out that the requirement placed on caravan owners under the Commission's proposed definition of vehicle category B+E may be too high. Under the current definition of vehicle category B, most caravans may be driven with a vehicle category B licence. Under the Commission proposal, this right no longer applies to new drivers and all caravans are to come under licence category B+E, with drivers required to sit an examination. The Committee would point out the potential implications of this proposal for industry, and suggests that, for road safety reasons, a one-day training course be made mandatory for certain kinds of trailer, including a large percentage of caravans. A code on the driving licence could indicate that the holder has attended such a course. The Committee proposes using code 96 for that purpose.


The Committee notes that many category B drivers (vans) are professional transporters and that the proposed directive introduces no additional measures to combat the high accident rate (6) within this category. This means that, at the moment, this group of drivers is not subject to rules about driving hours, rest periods and aptitude, and that the vehicles need not be fitted with speed limiters. The Committee is particularly concerned about white vans with a maximum authorised mass not exceeding 3,500 kg and the danger posed by this sector on EU roads. The Committee would like to see the Commission tackle this sector. Of the several possible options, the Committee feels the soundest would be to require drivers of all vehicles with a maximum authorised mass not exceeding 3,500 kg and a payload of more than 1,000 kg to obtain a C1 licence. They are thus automatically classed and treated as professional drivers. Such a definition would make drivers of these vehicles subject to the provisions of Directive 2003/59/EC and require them to gain an initial qualification and undergo periodic training. The Committee feels that it would be a positive step to make Group 1 professional drivers (such as van, taxi and ambulance drivers) subject to the same medical testing requirements as Group 2 professional drivers (lorry and bus drivers).


In the light of the above comments, the Committee would propose the following new definitions for driving licence categories B, B+E, C1 and C1+E:

Driving licence category

Maximum authorised mass of the tractor vehicle

Maximum payload of the tractor vehicle

Maximum authorised mass of the trailers


< 3,500 kg

< 1,000 kg

< 750 kg

B+ training + code inserted in licence

< 3,500 kg

< 1,000 kg

> 750 kg; < 1,400 kg; maximum trailer length 7.0 metres


< 3,500 kg

< 1,000 kg

> 750 kg; < 3,500 kg; combination < 7,000 kg; maximum trailer length 7.0 metres


< 3,500 kg

> 1,000 kg

< 750 kg


> 3,500 kg; < 6,000 kg


< 750 kg


> 3,500 kg; < 6,000 kg


> 750 kg; combination < 12.000 kg


The Committee is somewhat concerned that Member States are to have the option of lowering the minimum age for obtaining a driving licence, as provided for under Article 7(2). No distinction is made, either in the explanatory memorandum or in the article itself, between Member States' differing practices on this front. Lower age limits apply in three distinct cases:


to the licence itself, as in Ireland and the UK, for instance;


during training, as in France and Sweden, for instance; and


during training, where the licences issued are initially valid only nationally, as, for instance, in Austria and some German Länder.


The Committee rejects the equivalence between vehicle categories B and A1 as laid down in Directive 91/439/EC, which the Commission does not intend to change. Although the Committee feels that this provision does give car drivers more freedom and more options, it is not conducive to road safety. Studies from countries that have equivalence of this kind show that it has an adverse impact on accident figures for this category of two-wheeler. The Committee thus believes that separate training and examination are needed for each type of vehicle. The Committee could approve equivalence between the B driving licence and the AM moped category. The AM category examination consists of a theoretical test only, covering broadly the same knowledge as that required for a B licence.


The Committee welcomes the Commission's proposal to harmonise minimum training standards for driving examiners. Genuine harmonisation between the EU Member States can only be realised if driving licence applicants have to meet the same requirements. It is only natural, therefore, that the parties assessing whether applicants meet those requirements should also operate in a harmonised way.

4.   Summary and conclusions


The Committee very much welcomes the Proposal for a Directive of the European Parliament and of the Council on driving licences, although it is critical of a number of points relating to the practical application of some of the measures.


The Committee is particularly pleased that the proposed directive focuses on improving road safety by introducing a number of changes to the system that are designed to factor in the human element of transport, without playing down the directive's other objectives (free movement of citizens and reducing susceptibility to fraud).


The Committee asks that consideration be given to the expected reaction to the proposed measures in some Member States and among certain target groups. Much of the resistance could be prevented by having a sufficiently long transitional phase, which would not, however, mean having to delay the measures indefinitely. Given the proposed new measures for vehicle categories C, C1, D, D1 and their respective trailer categories, and in the light of Directive 2003/59/EC recently adopted by the Commission and Council on the aptitude of professional drivers, the synchronised introduction of some parts of this directive would be helpful for many Member States.


The Committee asks that attention to be drawn to the high accident rate among professional drivers in licence category B. The Committee would very much appreciate a European Commission proposal for drivers in this group.


The Committee recommends a rethink of the definition of trailer classes B+E and C1+E. In the current proposal, the Committee notes a lack of clarity in the suggested definition, the problem of weight distribution in licence category C1+E and the disparity between licence categories B+E and C1+E.


The Committee welcomes the equivalence between licence categories C1 and D1. However, it is not happy about the expected impact of equivalence between licence categories B and A1. The Committee is aware that such equivalence is already in place in a number of Member States but is concerned about the impact of such a step.


The Committee feels that Member States should retain the authority to issue driving licences with limited validity for medical reasons.

Brussels, 31 March 2004.

The President

of the European Economic and Social Committee


(1)  Commission interpretative communication on Community driver licensing, OJ C 77, 28.3.2002, p. 5.

(2)  COM (2003) 311 final

(3)  COM(2001) 370 final – Committee opinion, OJ C 241, 7.10.2002, p. 168

(4)  OJ C 80 of 30.3.2004

(5)  OJ L 237, 24.8.1991

(6)  For the situation in the Netherlands, see inter alia the following reports: C. Schoon, Ontwikkelingen in parkomvang en onveiligheid bestelauto's. Een verkenning binnen het thema Voertuigveiligheid van het SWOV-jaarprogramma 2000-2001 - report reference R-2001-33; and A.A. Kampen, Onveiligheid van Bestel- en Vrachtauto's binnen de bebouwde kom - report reference R 97-53 SWOV (Netherlands Institute for Road Safety Research). These reports indicate that delivery vans are the only vehicle category to show a steady rise in the number of fatal accidents. Taking 1984 as a base year (= 100), the figure for 2002 had risen to 138, while, for all other categories, it had fallen to below 85.