New EU driving licence rules would allow 16-year-olds to drive an SUV

  • April 28, 2023

ETSC is calling on the European Union to drop plans to allow children aged as young as 16 to drive any car that has been adapted with a speed-limiting device set at 45 km/h.

The proposal, part of plans announced last month to revise driving licence rules in the EU, appears to be inspired by a Finnish legal proposal first put forward five years ago.

Before the idea was scrapped in 2020 because it was illegal under current EU law, the Finnish government had announced plans to allow children as young as 15 to drive cars of up to 1500kg as long as they were fitted with a speed limiter set at 60 km/h.  The new EU rules would allow Finland and any other Member State to go ahead with a ‘cars for kids’ programme, albeit with a lower speed limit and a slightly higher minimum age.  Bizarrely the new EU rules would allow an even higher weight limit of 2500kg, potentially enabling 16-year-olds to drive a Mercedes G Class SUV to school, as long as it was speed-limited to 45 km/h.

Antonio Avenoso, Executive Director of ETSC commented:

“It is particularly ironic that this crazy idea comes as part of a so-called ‘road safety package’ of EU legislation.  While some wealthy parents may be thrilled at the idea of buying a specially speed-restricted SUV for their child to drive to school, if they do so, they will be putting other children who may be walking, riding a bike or a moped, at severe risk.  Does it really need to be said that putting children behind the wheel of an SUV is an absolutely dreadful idea?”

“This proposal should be immediately consigned to the dustbin of history, and effort should instead be put into making our roads safer for children to walk and ride a bike safely.”

The Commission’s own impact assessment on the proposals said “the measure may pose an additional road safety risk, notably for vulnerable road users” but attempted to play down the effects by noting that the speed and weight had been ‘significantly limited’.  However, the weight limit proposed is 2.5 tonnes, which would include some of the heaviest SUVs on the European market.  

ETSC has recommended investments in public transport, with reduced ticket prices for younger people, as an alternative to driving and riding, also at places and times when young people are partying.

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.