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As the UK Drives Out of the EU, You Need to Prepare to Drive In

Despite the government's reassurance that a no-deal scenario is 'unlikely', it is important for UK drivers to be aware of and prepare for this as the European Commission has announced that UK driving

Despite the government's reassurance that a no-deal scenario is 'unlikely', it is important for UK drivers to be aware of and prepare for this as the European Commission has announced that UK driving licences will no longer be recognised by EU Member States if the UK leaves the EU without an agreement on 29 March 2019. This article also addresses issues which commercial drivers and haulage companies transporting goods abroad will need to be aware of.

The Current Regime

Currently, those who possess a UK driving licence can drive, for work and/or leisure, into any country within the EU. It is also the case for those who move to an EU country for residency that they can exchange their UK licence which has been issued by the Driver and Vehicle Licensing Agency ("DVLA"), for a driving licence issued by the EU country without the need to re-sit their driving test.

UK commercial drivers travelling to and from the EU and the European Economic Area ("EEA") must have a standard international operator’s licence, as well as a community licence.

March 2019 and a No-Deal Brexit

In the event of a no-deal scenario on 29 March 2019, UK drivers and vehicles relying on their licences issued by the UK could be restricted from entering Member States due to non-recognition of licences issued by the UK. On 28 March 2018, in response to this the UK took a pre-emptive action by ratifying the 1968 Vienna Convention which is a United Nations ("UN") international treaty that accommodates the mutual recognition of national driving licences as well as international driving permits issued by the contracting states. It should be noted that Cyprus, Ireland, Malta and Spain are not parties to the Vienna Convention. These countries are instead parties to the 1949 Geneva Convention to which the UK is also a party.  

It is possible that UK drivers may be required to obtain an International Driving Permit ("IDP") in order to be able to drive in the EU. The IDP is a document which together with a valid UK driving licence will enable drivers to drive outside of the UK, including the EU countries. It should be noted that those who are unable to present an IDP at the border of a Member State may face the possibility of being refused entry or other enforcement action such as fines. There are two types of IDP depending on the relevant EU country being visited and the UN Convention that governs that EU country i.e., the Vienna[1] or Geneva Convention. The Vienna Convention IDP is usually valid for 3 years. The Geneva Convention IDP is valid for 12 months.

IDPs can be acquired at a cost of £5.50 and will be available at 2,500 Post Offices across the UK. The Government has also assured that in early 2019 an announcement will be made informing which Post Office branches will be offering IDPs. A report published in July 2018 by the Department for Transport, refers to the number of IDPs that will be issued in the first year in the event of a no-deal Brexit which is anticipated as 100,000 – 7 million.

In relation to commercial drivers and haulage companies transporting goods abroad, community licences issued by the UK may no longer be recognised by the Member States. Should such circumstances arise, "the government is confident that it would be able to negotiate new or reinstate old bilateral agreements with EU countries to provide haulage access." Nevertheless, in the same guidance, the Government has also suggested that it may be plausible for transport managers to apply for Community licences and European Conference of Ministers of Transport ("ECMT") international permits in readiness for March 2019. ECMT international permits accommodate for UK operators to drive in the EU and EAA in the event that community licences issued by the UK are no longer recognised. The Government has warned that there are limited numbers of ECMTs available and has invited UK operators to make an online application for the international permit before 11:59pm on 21 December 2018.

Trailer registration is the other aspect that commercial drivers and haulage companies transporting goods abroad need to be aware of. From 29 March 2019, commercial trailers weighing over 750kg and all trailers with a weight over 3,500 kg must be registered before they can travel through countries that have ratified the 1968 Vienna Convention. Accordingly, in addition to DVLA registration and display of their registration plate, trailers travelling through the Vienna Convention countries will also need to present the Trailer Registration Certificate ("TRC") when required. TRCs are not required for trailers that will be entering Cyprus, Ireland, Malta and Spain (as they are the Geneva Convention countries), however; should a trailer need to travel through any of the Vienna Convention countries, then a TRC is required. 

It is not difficult to imagine a scenario where there is a massive influx of applications for IDPs and ECMTs. However, it remains to be seen whether the EU and/or the UK only allow a limited number of IDPs. It is questionable whether the cost will be fixed at the current rate (at £5.50) or whether applicants would face increased charges for IDPs. In the event of an influx of applications and a limited number of permits being available, it remains to be seen what will happen to the commercial transport sector in the UK.

These are uncertainties that remain and highlight the importance of negotiations in reaching a deal where citizens, consumers and businesses are afforded stability and the evident risk of economic disruption is brought to a minimum.

[1] The following counties in the EU, EEA and Europe have ratified the Vienna Convention: Albania; Andorra; Armenia; Austria; Azerbaijan; Belarus; Belgium; Bosnia and Herzegovina; Bulgaria; Croatia; Czech Republic; Denmark; Estonia; Finland; France; Georgia; Germany; Greece; Hungary; Italy; Kazakhstan;  Latvia; Liechtenstein; Lithuania; Lithuania; Luxembourg; Macedonia; Moldova; Monaco; Montenegro; Netherlands; Norway; Poland; Portugal; Romania; Russia; San Marino; Serbia; Slovakia; Slovenia; Sweden; Switzerland; and Ukraine.

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