The Finnish government is looking to alter traffic legislation to allow people with Chinese driver's licenses to use Finnish roads.
The Ministry of Transport and Communications reports that the government will submit its proposal to Parliament in September. The goal is that authorities will henceforth accept driver's licenses granted in countries that Finland recognises.
Car rental services deplore the current situation. Because China is not a signatory of the UN's 19th Convention on Road Traffic (also known as the Vienna Convention) none of the thousands of annual Chinese tourists are currently allowed to lease or drive cars in Finland.
"This is a tourism-driven decision," says Ministry service chief Sabina Lindström. "Companies in Lapland have had trouble with the current system, and that's something that government wants to change."
Tour operators elated
The new license law is expected to come into effect next July. Car leasing firms like Hertz say they are elated by the shift.
"I expect rental figures to grow drastically," says Hertz regional manager Arttu Lahtinen.
Tourism from China and other East Asian countries especially is on the rise, with visitors flocking to Lapland to visit Santa Claus and pet reindeer – but guests from the Chinese mainland are currently forced to skip snowmobile tours because of their non-international licenses.
"We are able to sell snowmobile safaris to all tourists from Asia except those from China," says Lapland Safaris director Jyrki Niva. "We organise tours for them in separate areas, but it costs us money and the tourists don't actually get the full safari experience."
Niva estimates that the traffic reform could bring in 1,000 new tourists per year.
Driving in Lapland is not easy even if you do have a valid license. In subzero conditions, cars may fail to start, windows may be frozen shut or the whole vehicle may slide into a ditch on icy roads. Semi-wild reindeer wander freely along the roads, and may be nearly invisible during heavy snowfall.
Chinese motorists will soon receive training in winter driving when visiting Finland.
"Braking in cold conditions usually requires more space, warming the car up takes a certain amount of time and frozen windows need to be scraped. These are the things we'll be teaching," says Lahtinen.
The Motor Insurers' Centre and the Finnish Road Safety Council are currently drafting a tourist guide on winter driving. The pamphlet is to be translated into several languages including Chinese, and is meant to be distributed by hotels, leasing agencies and others.
"People need to know that you can't leave a car in the middle of the road without the lights on when filming the aurora borealis, for instance," says Niva, who says he isn't worried about new drivers on northern roads.
"It's a bigger risk for a Finn to go driving around in Beijing," he says, "than for a Chinese person to take a spin over here!"