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Drivers to face mandatory health checks when renewing licences

15:25 03/01/2024

Belgium's road safety institute has welcomed EU-wide proposals to require drivers to take a mandatory health check every 15 years to ensure they are still fit to drive.

The health check is one main element of a recent vote by the European Parliament Transport and Tourism Committee on a proposal for new European Union (EU) driving licence rules to improve road safety.

The draft, which may change following negotiations with MEPs and EU member states, will now go to a vote at the full parliament plenary session of January or February in Strasbourg.

Debate is likely to be fierce, given that the centre-right EP European People’s Party voted against the text.

Member states would be free to determine the length of validity of the permit and who should be responsible for expenses associated with renewing it, and of the associated medical tests.

French Green MEP Karima Delli, who led the negotiations and authored the draft report on the European Commission proposal, welcomed the preliminary approval as “common sense”, emphasising that the drivers’ licence is a tool to help road safety.

According to Benoît Godart, spokesman for the Brussels-based Vias road safety institute, it is pointless to put an age limit on such tests.

“We support the application of a medical examination for all drivers in Belgium," he said. "However old you are, problems of vision can appear very early. In addition, they worsen greatly in the dark.

“Vision plays a major role in driving. An examination by your doctor every 10 years, when renewing the electronic licence, would enable better control and safety for all road users."

This approach has already been taken in Europe. While some people may object, it is important to note that the idea of regular testing is not new.

Some countries such as Italy (from age 50), the Netherlands (every five years for the over-75s), Denmark, Finland, Spain and the Czech Republic already impose eye tests at age-related intervals.

MEPs want to make these tests simple and quick to do, to minimise the administrative burden for drivers.

Under the proposed rules - to be applied in Belgium and throughout the EU - inexperienced drivers would have to undergo a probationary driving period of at least two years, during which there would be certain restrictions such as stricter penalties for unsafe driving and a maximum 0.2g/l alcohol limit while driving.

A recommendation was also backed to adapt driver training and testing to better prepare drivers for real driving situations and develop their risk awareness, in particular to vulnerable users such as pedestrians, cyclists, e-scooter and e-bike users.

MEPs also said that safe phone usage while driving, driving in snow and slippery conditions, blind spot risks, driver-assistance systems and vehicle use in relation to the environment and emissions should be part of driver tests.

Written by Liz Newmark