How will the future UK-EU relationship impact road safety?

  • January 27, 2021

The transition period is over and a deal has been done.  What will the implications be for road safety regulation and cooperation now that the UK has left the EU and a new trade deal has been signed?

The biggest changes are where no agreement was reached and/or EU rules no longer apply to the UK.

The EU legislation on cross-border enforcement of traffic offences no longer applies, meaning the UK is not able to easily follow-up on traffic penalties such as speeding tickets from foreign-registered drivers.  The same is true for EU Member States vis-à-vis UK drivers.  Bilateral agreements between the UK and EU Member States could change this in the future, as could a future UK-EU agreement at some point.

Another significant and immediate loss of data exchange is in the field of vehicle defects and recalls.  Though this will hopefully only see a temporary interruption.  The UK has, historically, frequently alerted EU Member States to information about serious vehicle defects as they came to light, and vice-versa.  But the UK is no longer a part of the EU / EEA Rapex rapid alert system for product defects.  There is a commitment in the text to set up a method of exchanging data between the EU system and the future UK one, but this has not yet been worked out.

The UK is no longer subject to newly-updated EU rules on road infrastructure safety management.

The UK is also no longer party to the EU target to reduce road deaths and injuries by 50% by 2030.  It currently has no equivalent national target but has committed to the similar global goal set out in the recent Stockholm Declaration.

The UK will no-longer provide detailed data on road deaths and serious injuries to the EU CARE database, an important source for benchmarking of road safety performance in Europe.  However, the UK will still be working with other international organisations such as the International Transport Forum and ETSC’s own Road Safety Performance Index programme.

In the field of vehicle regulation, the UK is setting up its own vehicle type-approval system.  Vehicles will now have to meet both the UK and EU standards if they are to be sold in both markets.  The exception is Northern Ireland where it will still be possible to sell a vehicle with only EU type approval.

For the time being EU type approvals are being converted to UK ones in a relatively straightforward process – but that may change when the UK moves on from the temporary system currently in place.  UK-based manufacturers will need to get EU approval from an EU-based type approval authority for all new types of vehicle in the future as well as UK approval to sell at home.  Likewise EU-based manufacturers will need a UK type approval from the British authorities in order to sell vehicles in England, Scotland and Wales.

The UK government has previously stated that it would apply new EU vehicle safety rules coming into force from 2022 that mandate new technologies such as Automated Emergency Braking and Intelligent Speed Assistance. But the UK’s position on this is now unclear.

The cost of new vehicles in the UK is likely to increase due to the additional regulatory and logistical burdens of Brexit – which could potentially slow down fleet renewal towards more modern, safer vehicles.  Some manufacturers have reportedly already increased UK list prices.

Thanks to the deal, some transport regulations that affect safety will remain largely unchanged for the time being.  UK lorries operating in the EU, and vice-versa, will now have to follow the rules set out in the deal – which mirror existing EU legislation on things like driving hours, rest times, certificates of professional competence, use of tachographs and weights and dimensions of vehicles.  If either side wants updated or different rules in the future, that will be subject to negotiation. For bus traffic, both sides have agreed to base future operations largely on the existing Interbus agreement governing passenger road transport between EU and non-EU countries.

It has also been agreed that the UK will continue to participate in the EU’s flagship €80bn Horizon Europe research funding programme as a paying associate member for seven years.  However, the UK will not get a say over the programme’s overall strategy.

Ellen Townsend, Policy Director of ETSC commented:

“The UK and EU will not have safer roads as a result of this agreement. There are several gaps such as cross-border enforcement and unknowns, including when data sharing on vehicle recalls will restart.  The UK’s expertise and leadership on transport safety will be missed in all manner of EU debates.  Looking forward, we hope that the EU and the UK build good cooperation and that the various new working groups are open and transparent, with NGOs given a seat at the table.  The world now has another vehicle safety regulatory regime. We hope the UK uses that opportunity to put in place safety standards that go further and faster than the EU’s new 2022/4 standards, and avoids a race to the bottom.  The possibility of lowered standards in order to reach a trade deal with the United States remains a real danger.”