In a referendum held on 23 June, a majority of citizens of the United Kingdom voted to leave the European Union. The decision, if carried through with the commencement of the Article 50 procedure of the treaty of the EU, may have far-reaching consequences for the areas of policy covered by European Union law, including transport safety.
There is currently a great deal of uncertainty about the kind of relationship the UK will have with the remaining member states, and the legal framework that would apply after formal withdrawal.
Some of the main areas of European Union legislation that currently apply to the UK in the field of transport safety include:
- minimum vehicle safety standards for new vehicles (covering requirements such as seatbelts, electronic stability control and crash protection standards);
- legislation covering international transport such as aviation, maritime and rail safety;
- social and safety rules for international transport services, such as working time restrictions for long distance lorry drivers;
- infrastructure safety standards for major roads and tunnels;
- recently-agreed rules on cross-border enforcement of traffic offences enabling member states to enforce traffic penalties for dangerous driving, such as speeding, committed by non-residents. These rules are due to come into force in the UK next year.
The UK is currently also party to a non-legislative EU target for reducing the numbers of road deaths by 50% over the decade to 2020.
It may not be clear for several years what will happen to this legal and policy framework in the UK context. As such, there is a risk that levels of transport safety in the UK could suffer as a consequence. It will be up to the future UK governments to put in place their own provisions where current EU provisions cease to apply to the UK under the arrangement that emerges between the UK and the EU.
The influence of the UK on European policy in this area over the last forty years has also been one of fundamental importance. UK research and policy on all areas of transport safety has been highly influential, and the UK government has also played a crucial role in negotiations on transport safety rules since joining the EU. As a leader on transport safety, the UK will be sorely missed in EU negotiations. If the UK cannot play a formal role in future EU policy development, we would hope for, and encourage, participation on a voluntary basis.
The European Transport Safety Council is a non-governmental organisation that has always worked beyond the European Union’s borders. While influencing EU policy remains a main priority, cooperation with national governments inside and outside the EU on sharing best practice between countries has always been an equally important aspect of our work.
As such, we look forward to continuing to work with member organisations based in the UK, and governments in the UK on transport safety issues. We will continue to monitor progress on transport safety in the UK in comparison with other countries in Europe. ETSC also stands ready to offer advice and support to UK policymakers on transport safety during the difficult months and possibly years of transition to come.