Finnish “cars for kids” plans postponed following European Commission warnings

  • October 23, 2019

The entry-into-force of a new law in Finland to permit children as young as 15 to drive regular cars fitted with speed limiters has been postponed following an intervention by the European Commission.

The proposals, put forward last year by the government, would have allowed children to drive cars up to 1500kg at speeds of up to 60 km/h and with only an AM category license – normally reserved for mopeds and light quadricycles.  The original legal proposal set a speed limit of 45 km/h – the same as quadricycles such as the Renault Twizy – but that was increased to 60 km/h in an amendment added during the parliamentary procedure.

The proposed rules would have allowed 14-year-olds to apply for the special AM license, and take the theory test one month before their 15th birthday. The changes also had the effect of allowing passenger cars to be classified as agricultural tractors once fitted with the speed limitation device.

The Finnish government notified the European Commission of the proposed legal changes last year and has now been warned twice that the measures are not compatible with EU rules on driver licensing. The Commission also stated that driving of lightweight vehicles by 15-year-old adolescent holders of moped car licences may lead to serious safety issues for vulnerable road users, such as small children, pedestrians and cyclists.

The Finnish measures were strongly supported by car manufacturers, who have also been critical of the decision to postpone the scheme.  Most major manufacturers have promoted the so-called “lightweight cars” on their websites including Volkswagen, which pointed out that its T-Roc SUV would be a suitable vehicle for the scheme.

According to research on young drivers and road users reviewed as part of ETSC’s YEARS project, a lack of experience on the road means that young people are worse at anticipating and reacting to hazards. They are also less aware of how best to drive and ride in particular road conditions and situations.

A range of impairments and distractions also affect young people, which compounds the problem. This is linked to the increased social activity they experience during the ages of 15-25, which includes a greater exposure to alcohol and drugs, the influence of peer-age passengers and the effects of fatigue. In-car distraction from mobile devices is also a problem.

Antonio Avenoso, Executive Director of ETSC said:

“The assumption is that you can best protect children by putting them inside a car.  But we know that young, particularly male, drivers present a high risk while driving. When you put a young teenager behind the wheel of a regular car at speeds of up to 60km/h, you are exposing other road users to greater risk, including other children.

“As the numbers of youngsters driving increase, parents may also take the view that the roads are no longer safe for their children to walk or cycle.  The risk is that even more end up driving.  Though of course only wealthier families will be able to consider the possibility of buying a specially modified car – creating the potential for a ‘safety divide’.  We sincerely hope the Finnish government will reconsider this proposal, taking into account the potential for unintended consequences.”