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Cyclists file EU complaint over new class of "light vehicles"

Legal reforms mean that teens as young as 15 are now able to drive regular passenger vehicles as well as mini or moped cars.

Image: Laura Tolonen / Yle

The Finnish Cyclists Federation has filed a complaint with the European Commission over new laws in Finland that designate passenger cars as "lightweight vehicles" and allow underage teens to drive them with the same license used for a mini or moped car.

The Federation is arguing that the legal reform essentially allows younger teens to drive larger passenger vehicles without the training or experience usually required to secure the B-class license needed to drive a car. The legal reform took effect last November.

"I don’t know whether or not we will be able to stop it. That’s another thing. We believe this issue is so serious that we have to look at each and every [class of] license," federation chair Matti Koistinen said.

Yle also interviewed traffic experts who said they were highly critical of how little instruction a 15-year-old would now need to drive a regular vehicle weighing 1,500 kilograms.

In addition to the new class motor vehicles, Finland has introduced a number of measures that will essentially put more and younger drivers behind the wheel. The include reforms to fast-track the process of getting a driver's permit as well as reducing the threshold for 17 year-olds to get a driver's license.

More traffic undermines climate goals

Passenger cars now designated as "lightweight vehicles under the new law have a maximum speed limit of 60 kilometres an hour and teens will be able to drive them without the B-license that other motorists must have to get behind the wheel.

The level of training required is the same as is now compulsory for so-called moped or mini cars, which can have a legal top speed of 45 kilometres an hour.

Meanwhile the cyclists’ association said it opposes the reform for two key reasons. The first is that it will endanger other light traffic such as pedestrians and cyclists.

"We all know how people 'soup up' their moped cars," Koistinen declared.

Secondly, the legal reform will increase vehicular traffic and therefore runs counter to climate goals, the organisation pointed out.

Reform inconsistent with EU rules

In Finland, lightweight cars are classified as T-class vehicles, which in the eyes of EU regulations are essentially tractors. The driver of a T-class vehicle must be at least 15 years old, according to the law.

EU regulations define T-class vehicles as intended for use in forestry and agriculture. According to the cycling federation this presents a contradiction with the Finnish legal reform, as cars now defined as T-class vehicles are primarily meant to transport people and goods. The organisation noted that according to EU regulations, lightweight vehicles should be classified as cars rather than tractors.

In addition, the cyclists’ NGO argued that there is no corresponding kind of moped car that EU rules would allow someone with an AM-class license to drive – in other words a 15-year-old.

The European Commission had previously cautioned Finland about the inconsistency with EU rules during the preparatory stage of the legal reform. At the time, it pointed out that the new class of driver’s license would flout EU regulations.

The federation said that later modifications to the law still do not make the new class of "lightweight cars" moped cars or tractors.

Since it already issued a caution over the disregard for EU rules, the Commission now has the option of taking legal action against Finland.