- About Us
- Media Centre
- Key Issues
- Contact Us
Enforcement in Member States
The 2007 Eurosparks legal research compared national approaches in the UK, France, Germany, Italy, The Netherlands and the Republic of Ireland – looking at legal frameworks, terminology, minimum and maximum penalties and enforcement.
Similarities in Legal ApproachThe first similarity is that all the member states, except France and the Republic of Ireland, have introduced some degree of decriminalisation of traffic offences, with the UK the most advanced. Parking violations are the most common area of decriminalisation.
The second similarity is that penalties are relatively small and most usually financial. Only France and Italy endorse the driving licences of offenders who do not pay penalties. Municipal authorities often have considerable discretion in setting the level of fines and in enforcing penalties, except in France.
Difficulties include definition of decriminalisation. In the UK, this means that an offence has been removed entirely from the criminal process and is dealt with by a local authority, with oversight from adjudicators and the courts. In Germany the police may still enforce a decriminalised offence and the rights of defence are the same as for people accused of a criminal offence. The Italian system uses civil procedures but affords the accused the same protection as in criminal offences. France and the Republic of Ireland still rely on criminal law to enforce violations of minor traffic laws.
United KingdomUK enforcement is based on an administrative process, with ultimate enforcement through the normal process for the enforcement of civil judgments. There are limited criminal sanctions in some areas.
The UK has a system of traffic legislation that has developed incrementally, local authorities can opt to enforce minor traffic laws via decriminalised legislation or they can leave enforcement in the hands of the police using criminal law.
A civil penalty system is used to enforce parking transgressions, it was introduced in London in 1991 and has since been introduced by many local authorities in England and Wales. Local authorities have the power to designate parking spaces and parking areas, and to enforce penalties against offenders. An independent tribunal hears appeals.
Congestion charging is currently limited to London where it is policed by cameras. Each vehicle entering the changing zone has its number plate recorded by camera and the number is checked against a database of vehicles that have paid to be in the zone on that day. Penalties are issued for non-payment.
Penalties range from £40 to £120, with 50 per cent discounts for payment within 14 days.
FranceThe French system of enforcement is based on criminal and administrative law. There is no congestion charging and comparatively fewer minor offences than other countries.
France’s system of traffic enforcement is based on criminal and administrative law known as the Code de la Route. Local police forces are empowered by departments and communes to issue traffic fines, which are then enforced in the same way as judicial decisions – if a person does not pay a traffic fine then their assets can be seized. Seizure can be challenged in a civil court.
Financial penalties range from €11-€750. Stopping in a no parking area, in box junctions and not paying at a parking meter carry the lowest fines. Driving in a bus lane is considered to be a serious offence on a par with driving through a red light and speeding.
Fines may be accompanied by points on a driving licence or withdrawal of the licence. Between one and four points may be imposed per offence; after three years with no further offences they are removed from the driving licence. Points are not imposed for minor parking offences.
In the French legal system, civil law processes are specific to relations between private persons or companies and can apply to public bodies only where they have the same kind of activities as private persons – essentially commercial activities. French civil law can not be applied to enforcement of administrative debts or fines resulting from sanctions including road traffic regulation. This renders any effort to engage in cross border enforcement of a ‘civil penalty’ issued in the UK, Netherlands or Italy to be unlikely to be successful.
GermanyGerman enforcement is based on administrative and regulatory law, which is a hybrid of criminal and administrative law. There is no congestion charging.
The German system imposes penalties ranging from €5-€50 for parking transgressions, certain moving traffic violations and evasion of road tolls. Fines over €40 also incur one to four points on the Central Register of Traffic Offenders and may lead to a driving ban or attendance at a retraining seminar. In cases of extreme hardship the fine may be capped at €20. Fines are imposed on the driver of the vehicle, not the registered owner.
Enforcement is carried out by state police forces or local authorities; a federal agency, the Bundesamt fur Guterverkehr, enforces motorway toll offences. Police and local authorities have discretion about whether they issue penalties for minor offences. In contrast criminal offences must be prosecuted.
If a penalty is not paid within time the case becomes more serious and enters a three-stage procedure. Objections are heard at stage one and the police or local authority issues a formal decision and a fine that is determined by federal regulations.
At stage two the offender can appeal against the fine. The police or local authority will re-examine their decision and if they do not change then it is referred to the state attorney who can close the case or file it with a judge at the lowest court.
This starts stage three when the case is considered under criminal procedures. Even if they lose at this stage the offender can lodge a further appeal in the regional courts of appeal; such appeals are restricted to matters of law. Such cases are decided by a panel of three judges who are members of the senate for regulatory offences.
ItalyItalian road traffic enforcement is based on administrative law and the system is considered to be decriminalised. There are no congestion charging or road pricing schemes, but road tolls for tourist buses have been introduced in some tourist cities.
The Codice della Strada, which is national legislation, provides a system of administrative sanctions that local authorities use to create restrictions and set fine levels. If drivers of foreign vehicles are stopped by a traffic warden they will be asked to pay the fine on the spot, or pay half the maximum penalty as a guarantee. If they refuse to pay their vehicle will be impounded and can be sold at public auction after 60 days. Wardens enforce parking regulations only.
City police enforce other offences, they have the power to remove cars, attach wheel clamps and impose fines. Vehicles not reclaimed after 180 days are sold or crushed. Certain offences also result in two penalty points on licences. In theory points can be added to foreign driving licences
Fines range from €22 to €296 and up to €430 for tourist buses during the annual Venice carnival. Foreign vehicles caught on CCTV are ignored. Local councils have the power to limit inner city traffic and create pedestrian areas.
The NetherlandsDutch enforcement relies on administrative, criminal and tax law, depending on the offence. There is no congestion charging or road pricing.
Municipalities can choose how they enforce minor traffic laws. Most choose to enforce underpayment and non-payment of parking fees by tax law, with parking and traffic violations managed by criminal and administrative law. Parking tax revenues belong to the municipality while revenues from fines enforced by criminal and administrative law go to the Department of Justice. Moving traffic violations are enforced by the police. Penalties range from €48 to €75.
Enforcement of unpaid penalties depends on who is enforcing, the municipality or police. Municipalities send a remainder without extra costs, then a summons (€6), then a distress warrant (€35). The warrant gives bailiffs a range of powers including seizure of goods.
Enforcement of administrative and criminal decisions is via the Mulder Act and carried out by the CJIB, a national agency. It sends a request for payment, reminder with 25% increase in the fine, second reminder with a 50% increase, bank order and finally a writ of execution. If none of these is successful the CJIB may suspend a driving licence, impound the vehicle or send the offender to prison.
Republic of IrelandEnforcement is based on criminal law, with a wide range of fixed penalty offences.
Parking enforcement is a criminal matter; a number of pieces of legislation allow local authorities to pass by-laws governing parking. Most parking contraventions have become fixed penalty offences enforced by either parking wardens or police officers. Offenders who do not pay penalties are prosecuted.
Penalties range from €40 to €90.
This is a synopsis of chapter two of the full report
Facts & Figures