Tuesday, 18 February 2014

DVLA red tape leaves Life On Cars at the mercy of the French police

IS IT possible to break the law in order to avoid not breaking it?

That’s the rather perplexing scenario I’ve spent the past week pondering, after it transpired that in order to not flout this country’s laws I run the risk of simultaneously falling foul of another’s.

All this thanks to the DVLA, some red tape, a J-registered Saab and the Belgians. 

It all started a week or so ago when the state agency responsible for driving licences sent me a polite letter to remind me that the photo on mine was looking a little out of date, having been taken in a branch of Woolworths at a time when Britain’s two main talking points were the Iraq War and The Cheeky Girls. 

For the sake of £20, a new and equally embarrassing photo and filling out a form, I’d avoid getting a £1,000 fine. There was only one snag; it was a legal requirement to send off both parts of my driving licence with it. 

After a few minutes of moaning to anyone who’d care to listen, I duly obliged.

It’s an inconvenience, but the not the end of the world. Or at least it wasn’t until two days after posting the form off, when I got asked, for a business trip, to go to Belgium.

A business trip which is not only in the very near future but will involve co-driving a friend’s Saab 9000 across France on the long trip to Antwerp. Places which, should I get stopped by les Gendarmes, I’ll almost certainly get asked to produce the driving licence I no longer possess.

It’s an absurd state of affairs. In order to avoid breaking the laws of this country, I’ve been forced into a position where I’ll have to break the laws of at least one other country should I dare to do what I’m legally entitled to on the other side of the Channel.

A quick call to the DVLA didn’t help. Partly because it wasn’t an especially quick call and led me to believe that humankind has actually abandoned Swansea and left the agency’s phone-manning robots to fend for themselves, but because once I actually got past the computerized phone switchboard it turned out the poor girl at the other end of the line didn’t actually know how to help me.

Having explained that “Have you asked the authorities in France and Belgium?” wasn’t the answer I was looking for, she was happy to sell me a Certificate of Entitlement, which for a fiver will prove to the police you really are entitled to drive. Unfortunately, it also comes with a whopping great disclaimer which states it isn’t valid in other EU states.

It is ridiculous that, in the event of the DVLA requiring your licence back at renewal time, it has absolutely no procedure in place should you need to pop over to the continent.

I look forward to writing my next column from my cell in La Bastille.

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