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Thousands of British drivers are being pursued by foreign police forces over unpaid speeding fines

The Telegraph logo The Telegraph 10/06/2019 Martin Evans
© Reuters

British drivers heading to the continent this summer are being warned not to ignore speed limits and other rules of the road amid a sharp rise in the number of motorists being pursued by foreign police forces.

Previously it was estimated that up to half a million UK drivers went unpunished for speeding each year in France alone, because they thought once they were back home they were untouchable.

But a new system called Mutual Legal Assistance (MLA), which the UK signed up to two years ago, which means it is much easier for drivers from one country to be prosecuted by the authorities in another.

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Now any driver suspected of a range of safety based offences, including speeding, drink driving, not wearing a seatbelt, running a red light or using a mobile phone at the wheel, can be prosecuted even when they have left the country where the offence took place.

A foreign police force can apply to the UK authorities for the driver information and under the MLA system the Driver and Vehicle Licence Agency (DVLA) must provide them.

Last year the UK received almost 2,000 requests for information about British drivers from other countries, up almost 20 per cent on the previous year.

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Unlike in Britain, where a notice of intended prosecution must be sent to the driver within 14-days, some European countries including Italy allow 12-months, meaning a fine could be issued a long time after the original offence took place.

Thomson Reuters, which conducted the analysis of MLA statistics, said the steady increase in the number of requests pointed to a growth in willingness among prosecutors to investigate and doggedly pursue foreign drivers.

The system has also benefited from ever improving technology such as sophisticated roadside and mobile cameras.

Read more: Britain's busiest speed camera nets £5m in three years - or is your road among the worst offenders? (Daily Mail)

Kevin McCormac, editor of Wilkinson's Road Traffic Offences, said: "The use of cross-border information requests has upended the legal risks of speeding abroad - foreign prosecutors can and will hunt you down.

"British drivers can expect no letup as more and more foreign prosecutors make use of the legal frameworks at their disposal.

"It can be tough for British drivers abroad as they are unlikely to know the finer details of local road traffic laws in other countries and, as a result, it can be very easy to be caught out."

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Many countries also operate a system of on the spot roadside fine, which are impossible to escape.

But in recent years countries like France have dramatically increased the use of private companies to deploy unmarked radar enabled cars across the country to spot speeding motorists.

For civil offences such as parking fines, the authorities can use debt collection agencies to recover the money.

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